Cathy McKeever at Sky Crossing

Category : Volunteer

Daily Point of Light Awarded to VIP Cathy McKeever

Monday , November 29 , 2021

Volunteer In Paradise Celebrates One of Its Own, Cathy McKeever, for Receiving the Daily Point of Light Award and for her Dedication to Supporting PVSchools Students and Teachers.

For many, retirement is a time to take it easy after long years of work; for others like Cathy McKeever it is a time to give back. That commitment led her to Volunteer In Paradise (VIP) where her work became integral not only to students and teachers but the program itself. Her dedication to the cause of volunteering is why we are proud to announce that Cathy McKeever is the worthy recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award for her initiative and achievement in the VIP program.

In 2018, after retiring at the top of her game in the hospitality industry, Cathy wanted to focus her efforts on the community starting with students. She began researching non-profit organizations that help kids and came across VIP.   A product of public schools herself, she wanted to pay it forward by assisting teachers and students in Arizona – and VIP was just the ticket.

When Cathy punched that ticket, PVSchools and VIP Coordinator Marisha Geraghty felt like they had hit the jackpot! With VIP growing its team of volunteer tutors, Cathy’s dedication to the cause was the perfect addition to the program. After quickly completing the 8 hours of required training to become a VIP, Cathy eagerly set out on her first assignment.

Cathy’s first day on campus at Desert Shadows Elementary School was eye-opening for her as she soon came to realize the challenges and differences she would face between her work in hospitality versus public education. Instead of red carpets or welcome committees, she found teachers and staff focusing all their time and energy keeping their students learning in a safe environment. Cathy stepped in to help them do just that, working several hours each week tutoring small groups of fifth graders in reading and writing. The immediate and ongoing feedback from teachers showed the positive impact she was making on each student’s progress. 

Her time tutoring was wonderful, insightful, and fulfilling for Cathy and her students. Cathy’s assigned teacher, Danielle Hartzel from Desert Shadows Elementary, couldn’t have been happier when she recounted Cathy’s 3 years of volunteering in her classroom, “It has been a privilege to work with ‘Ms. Cathy’ – as the students call her – over the past few years. The students ALWAYS beg to be in Ms. Cathy's group. She always comes in each week with a smile on her face. Our days in the classroom can be unpredictable but she is always willing to be flexible. She has jumped in to learn many different aspects of our ELA curriculum. Some examples include becoming a master at 4 Level Grammar, studying Greek Mythology, and spending countless hours reading 6th-grade novels. I truly appreciate all she has brought to my classroom through the years.”

In its seventh year, the VIP Program was on a quest to operate more efficiently and increase the number of students tutored from 1,000 to 3,000. In June of 2019, VIP submitted an application to pursue Points of Light’s Service Enterprise Initiative (SEI). A national change management program, SEI helps organizations gain a greater return on volunteer investment to better achieve their mission. VIP Coordinator  Marisha Geraghty explained it best, “Pursuing certification enabled VIP to learn and grow into a Service Enterprise more focused on the needs of PVSchools’ students, teachers, and volunteers. Our partnership with ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation taught us how PVSchools can be a leader and integral player in the community by providing enriching volunteer experiences to its members while helping our students improve achievement.”

Volunteer Cathy McKeever with Reading Group

Realizing the enormity of fulfilling the SEI certification requirements while maintaining the growing VIP Program itself, Marisha knew she needed to expand her leadership team and sought out Cathy after seeing her enthusiasm and her extensive management skills at work. It is no surprise Cathy enthusiastically agreed to help VIP achieve SEI certification in addition to continuing to tutor students. Seemed like a lot but Cathy was up to the task: “When I retired, I was looking for an opportunity to give back, especially supporting kids. VIP checked all the boxes! I love working with the kids and found new appreciation for the job our teachers do. Through the various volunteer assignments, I've gotten to know other volunteers and made new friends. VIP gives me a sense of helping and learning new things in the process.”

Unexpectedly, the process would become more challenging for VIP.  During this time, school closures were taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and VIP pivoted to virtual tutoring to keep students engaged and learning. Cathy's jack-of-all-trades nature would once again come into great effect as she was integral in assisting with this transition. She took on the technological change fearlessly, absorbing all she could to share her knowledge to help all VIPs become better, more proficient online tutors for students during such unimaginable times. And if that wasn’t enough, she led the launch of an After The Bell virtual tutoring program for English Language Learners at one of the district's Title I schools.

Cathy worked alongside Marisha for countless hours over many months – a process that eventually would take 2 years to complete thanks to the pandemic – compiling standards and evidence to support the SEI certification process. Using her well-honed leadership skills, Cathy also assisted in creating several compelling presentations to engage with stakeholders as a part of the SEI process, which was attended by PVSchools Superintendent Dr. Troy Bales, Executive Director of ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management Dr. David Ashcraft, and representatives of the Arizona Governor's office. Although VIP started the SEI journey in a cohort with five other non-profit organizations, VIP was the only organization to complete the process and achieve certification – a testament to Cathy’s and Marisha’s teamwork and persistence. With SEI certification awarded in June of 2021, Cathy took on tutoring parents of PVSchools students in English conversation, reading, and writing because she believed that by supporting the parents, she would also be helping the students achieve further success in the end.

After everything she's done, Cathy took a much needed 6-week vacation that began mid-September with her husband Dale, where they reunited with family and enjoyed the beauty and history of Europe. But Cathy was certainly not finished with VIP! When she returned, Cathy began helping students whose learning and social/emotional health were most adversely impacted by the pandemic. Her upcoming plans include resuming tutoring elementary students, and working in partnership with her favorite teacher, Danielle Hartzel. Cathy will also be expanding her tutoring efforts to middle school students in the AVID College and Career Readiness Program.

Although Cathy feels her volunteer service is rewarding enough, VIP is proud to announce that Cathy McKeever is the worthy recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award for her initiative and work in the VIP program. When asked her thoughts about Cathy winning the Daily Point of Light award, Marisha had this to say, “It’s perfect! Cathy was not only integral to VIP’s Service Enterprise Journey, but she continued her service to PVSchools, students, teachers, and parents during the entire process. She is more than deserving of this award!”

With this award, the Points of Light organization honors those in the community who do good every day, “using their hearts, hands, and minds to help strengthen communities and solve persistent problems.” Truly, perfect encapsulation of Cathy McKeever and her work with VIP. We are grateful for the bright light that Cathy McKeever has brought to PVSchools teachers and students through her dedication to VIP! If you would like to learn more about Cathy’s work and achievements, you can read Cathy’s service story and those of other Daily Point of Light awardees.