Grandville — To “job-shadow” parent volunteer Lacey Funke for an hour at Cummings Elementary leaves no doubt that she knows this school – its halls, its people, its kiddos – like a cherished friend. And that they, in turn, know her just as intimately.
On this particular day, she’s traveling the halls with a box of trinkets – prizes for students who have brought in any amount of money for the school’s Read-a-Thon. As she stops at each classroom, she’s greeted with hugs.
“You guys are getting so tall!” she exclaims to some third-graders. “You’re almost as tall as me!”
As another group sorts through the prizes: “Didn’t you want a green turtle?” she asks a student. “I thought you told me you wanted green. I have one here for you!”
To a boy trying to make up his mind: “How about this ghost? Isn’t it cute?”
He ultimately selects a pineapple trinket. “Pineapples are my favorite!” she exclaims, not missing a beat.
In front of one room, she hesitates before knocking on the door, studying the situation inside. “They seem like they’ve got a lot going on right now… I think we’ll come back later.”
As she departs each classroom, Funke’s benediction to every student is the same: “I love you, have a good day!”
Some of them come back for second or third hugs. It makes her eyes gleam. “How can this not just make your day?” she says to a visitor mid-embrace, her chin resting on top of a student’s head.
In an era when nearly nothing for schools has been stable, Lacey Funke has been a constant presence for the Cummings community.
“She’s always helping — like, you go, ‘Who can we ask?’ and Lacey’s always the one that’s first to say, ‘I will be there to help,’” said Amanda Bidle, front office secretary at Cummings. “That’s her calling. She is a helper.”
Funke, whose daughters Lila and Audra are in fifth and second grade at Cummings, attended her first PTC (Parent Teacher Child) committee meeting when Lila was in second grade. She always read the school’s weekly bulletins to stay informed, but wanted to do more.
“I always want to know what’s going on in my kids’ school — I like that kind of stuff,” Funke said. “And I needed more of a connection outside of my home. I didn’t know that anybody could attend (PTC meetings), so once I found out, I came that first night and then it just has kind of gone from there. The more you do it, the more you do, but I love it.”
“It” means, well, a lot of things these days. Officially, she is on the PTC board as its vice president and is Bidle’s main connection between staff and parents. She handles the school’s staff appreciation efforts and plans special events to celebrate teachers. She organizes and buys supplies for school parties. She coordinates fundraisers and recruits parent volunteers. She finds head room parents for each classroom and helps them work with their teachers. She leads special evening events like the daddy-daughter dance.
Outside of her PTC work, Funke also spends each midday at Cummings as a lunchroom and playground supervisor for lower elementary grades. This role gives her a chance to interact with kids on a daily basis — and handle any crises that arise — while giving teachers a brief respite for lunch and planning time.
Officially, these are the roles Funke has gladly agreed to take on. But unofficially? “She is a school mom. Their mom away from home,” said kindergarten teacher Pam Steele.
“That’s her calling. She is a helper.”— Cummings secretary Amanda Bidle
“She is always so positive and always has a smile on her face,” said Steele. “It’s very comforting for me to know she’s out there (on the playground) because I know she’s keeping (students) safe and I feel like she has their best interests in mind.
“You know, with these little ones, there’s always a time or two that someone falls in the mud or has a bathroom accident, but she always lets them know that they’re loved and accepted and everything’s OK. Even in some of the worst situations, she helps them end up on a positive note. Like, we might have had a rough time today, but we’ll get back at it again tomorrow.”
Added Bidle: “She’s just…joy. She’s hardworking and organized and she’s a joy to be around. And the kids admire her so much — they can’t wait for her to get here. She’s got little groupies that follow her around.”
‘Such a kind heart’
The attention and kind words make Funke a little embarrassed, and a little emotional at the same time.
“Sometimes I think it’s such a small position – maybe I work a lot behind the scenes, but, you know, I’m only here for an hour and a half a day,” she said. “But I know that it means a lot to the kids. Like, obviously, that’s why I do it. I’ve built these relationships with them and they don’t all have great lives, and I just want to be a bright spot in their day. Kids just really get into your heart, you know?”
It’s because of the kids that Funke has a basement full of unwrapped $5 gifts, waiting for the next school Santa Shop. The event had to be canceled the past two years, leading to the backlog. (“I want to wrap them before I bring them to the school, but I just never find the time to wrap them. My husband would probably really like it if I got them out of there.”)
It’s because of the kids that she occasionally finds herself at Goodwill, on the hunt for boots or gloves after noticing something during recess duty. (“I’m not gonna let any of these kids go without something they need.”)
‘I just want to be a bright spot in their day. Kids just really get into your heart, you know?’— parent volunteer Lacey Funke
And it’s because of the kids that Funke has gained a better understanding of the west side community where she’s lived her whole life.
“I guess I had a perceived notion that most of the kids at my children’s school were in similar situations, similar families as my children,” she said. “But I’ve realized that there’s a lot more needs in our school than I ever really knew. I didn’t expect that, but it’s been so good to know. It just makes me so happy that I get to play with them, and also build relationships and listen.”
To Funke, her volunteer work has had reciprocal benefits. She is quick to downplay any individual recognition among the other parent volunteers.
But Steele, who taught both of the Funke daughters in kindergarten and has watched Funke’s role at the school grow and make an impact, said the Cummings community would not be the same without her.
“Anything you’d ask her to do, she would be willing to do,” the kindergarten teacher said. “There’s a lot of countless hidden hours that are not recognized, and it’s a big job that she does.
“School is a team effort, and when Lacey is here, I know everyone will have their needs met. She has just such a kind heart.”