Four years ago, when Todd Yemc was laid off, he went “to work” volunteering every single day in his kindergarten daughter’s classroom.
Ridgeview’s principal, Maryalyce Zerrip, asked him if he would be willing to try organizing a local chapter of the national outreach program known as the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students).
By the end of the year, he had “about eight guys interested.” One of those was Mickey Larson, who expressed a desire to do a program at Appleview.
The following summer, Yemc spent time with a Watch D.O.G.S. group in the Rockford district, learningwhat he needed to know to recruit and schedule dads and other father-figures into Sparta classrooms.
He is enthusiastic about response from both volunteers and the students, and is grateful for the support he received from the Rockford program. In an effort to encourage other schools to implement the program, he says, “I have a standing offer to do the same for anyone wishing to start a chapter in their school.”
The response to starting a Watch D.O.G.S. group that first year was big, he said, with over 120 men – dads, uncles, grandpas, stepdads and boyfriends – stepping up to volunteer.
As the number of volunteers increase, so do the positive responses to the program.
“It doesn’t take any special skills, the guys just need to show up and be with the students,” said Larson, who is hopeful that the program will someday be expanded to the middle school. “The ones that volunteer are already somewhat engaged, but some kids never see a male role model.
“It is very special for the students to have them there. When a volunteer steps out unto the playground — say, with a basketball — within seconds there are 30 or more kids surrounding him.”
“This is our fourth year and we hope to make it the best year yet,” Yemc told those who gathered recently for the annual pizza party and sign-up night.