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In Sun, Rain, or (Piles of Snow), Volunteer Controls Parking Lot

Conrado Coipel stations himself, stop sign in hand, outside Oriole Park Elementary School to control traffic.

He ushers cars onto 40th Street, directing them to turn right, because to the left a line of cars waits to enter the school parking lot.

He sends car after car on its way until the students are safe in school in the morning or on their way home after the final bell. It’s his way of helping make the school day start and end a little more smoothly, he said.

It’s his neighborhood, after all. Oriole Park is where two of his grown children spent their elementary years, often standing at the corners as safeties. Coipel lives across the street from the school.

Despite the heaps of snow, frustrated drivers, and below-zero wind chills, Coipel is there every day volunteering. Things have been especially tricky this winter, he said, with the congestion worsened because of the weather.

“I do it basically to help the kids and the parents,” Coipel said. “When I don’t do it, it gets really crazy.”

Coipel, a 1980 Wyoming Rogers High School graduate, first volunteered in the role several years ago. However, he quit after it became too stressful. He decided to start again this school year.

“I missed it,” said Coipel, who is retired from Steelcase Inc.

He hopes someday the school will be able to expand its parking lot, but in the meantime, he’s just trying to help.

“I’m just doing this because I care about all the kids in the school,” he said.

Parents in a rush, honking and forcing themselves into spots are difficult to deal with, he said, but after awhile many seem to catch on that he’s providing an act of kindness.

“I appreciate the parents who say ‘thank you,'” he said.

Oriole Park Principal Jennifer Slanger said she couldn’t imagine what the parking lot would be like this year without Coipel.

“He does a wonderful job dedicating his time for the safety of our students and families,” Slanger said. “With the amount of traffic Oriole Park experiences on a daily basis, it is reassuring to know that he is outside regardless of the weather assisting drivers to ensure a smooth flow of traffic.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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