Every single day, LifeChangers of the Year continue to make a difference in their communities.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get to see the amazing work they do after their nomination. So we reached out to Katherine Villone, one of our finalists for the 2014-2015 LifeChanger program cycle and a member of the National Coalition for Safe Schools.
Katherine, who is from Bergenfield, New Jersey, is a passionate and devoted teacher who creates a dynamic classroom and unique lessons for her young students. She cultivates in each one of them a life-long passion for learning. We interviewed her and were able to hear about some of her extraordinary accomplishments since her nomination.
What are you passionate about these days, inside or outside your school?
A few summers back, I embarked on a trip to Tanzania, Africa, with my daughter, Megan, who had volunteered in Africa twice before. She wanted to go on this trip together so that I could see firsthand why she wanted to pursue a career in international social work.
What was supposed to be a graduation gift to her resulted in a lifelong gift to me. Until I went there in person, I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of the hardships people are faced with, such as the lack of basic necessities and access to clean water. In sub-Saharan Africa, young girls and women spend tens of millions of hours every single day walking to fetch water, which in large part impacts the girls’ abilities to get an education. My trip was truly a “life-changing” experience for me.
When we returned home, I was determined to do my part. I was not sure how and what that would look like. Through a series of events, my daughter and I both became involved with the Georgie Badiel Foundation.
An amazing humanitarian and international supermodel, Georgie Badiel has a mission of building and restoring wells in Burkina Faso, her home country. My work with Georgie eventually led me to become the Director of Education and School Partnerships for the foundation.
In my role, I work with educators and children across the globe to raise awareness about the water crisis in Africa as well as raising funds to build and restore wells and provide educational opportunities for women and girls.
Over the past two years, the foundation has brought clean water to more than 200,000 people. We have partnered with thousands of students and educators from across the United States and abroad encouraging service-based learning while raising funds.
Have you ahieved any other honors or recognition?
As of today, my most treasured recognition has been, hands down, the LifeChanger award. I don’t think there will ever be an experience that could top that! Reading my nomination letters impacted me more than I can put into words.
In addition to LCOY, I am proud to share that I was also nominated for the Sondheim Teaching Award and the Honored Award. I was also humbled to be the First Runner-Up for the New York Jets Touchdown for Teachers Award and a finalist for the Sanford Teacher Award.
As an educator, parent and a concerned citizen, I was especially honored to be selected as a Founding Member of the National Coalition for Safe Schools. Along with other outstanding educators from across the United States, I traveled to Alabama to begin examining the factors that lead to school violence and to find ways to prevent such tragedies.
This outstanding program is largely supported through the generosity of the National Life Group and the work will continue into the future. I am grateful for the new professional and personal relationships I have gained from this new program.
Something I was working on when I received my LCOY award was my master’s degree. One of my goals has been to transition from the classroom, which I have thoroughly loved, to the role of school counselor. To this end, I completed a Masters in School Counseling from Seton Hall University and was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi. I am ready to take on a new role when the opportunity arises.
Have you worked on critical initiatives in your school or community
I have to admit, I am guilty of being a little over-involved in everything. However, over the years, one project stands out more than others.
I have worked with my students and the school community to support a local food pantry. Students are actively involved with the collection and distribution of food and clothing. It is such an amazing bonding time we spend together. The relationships I developed with other local humanitarians led to me being appointed as Director of Social Services in my own town.
In this capacity, I now run my own food pantry with a loyal group of volunteers and students who help with every facet of providing food and other goods for people who just need some support. It has really been a fulfilling experience.
Have you started any programs or clubs?
For the last several years, as an outgrowth of my planned transition to be a school counselor, I have worked with my school’s part-time school counselor on several initiatives. Possibly too many to list. Overall, I am proud of the many service learning opportunities I bring forth.
In my opinion, being a successful teacher is making connections with your students, their parents, and the community. The expectation I have of my students is to excel not only in the classroom but also as citizens in society. The service learning projects I introduce whether it is collecting food and clothing for a local shelter, raising awareness to a global water crisis, sending letters to soldiers and veterans, or running a “YOU MATTER” marathon, is to teach students to become lifelong learners, contribute to their community, and understand their role as empathic global citizens.