WAXAHACHIE

Jingles the Elf hastily worked to pass out hot cocoa with peppermint sticks and marshmallows to Shackelford Elementary classes as the students anticipated Christmas break.

However, when she arrived at Amy McCleskey’s kindergarten class, the children referred to her by her true identity: Jenifer Martin.

Martin’s passion for kids and their smiles is what keeps her coming back. The second-year volunteer said the opportunity to help a teacher or offer a helping hand to students in the cafeteria are the little moments that she takes advantage of.

Martin explained the past year has been particularly trying. And as Christmas approaches she is reminded that her beloved grandmothers are no longer with her. Instead, she has chosen to spend her free time — and save her sanity — with the children at Shackelford.

“You walk in, and you’re sad, and you have your home life. You walk in, and those kids brighten my world; they make me smile and forget about everything at home,” Martin explained with full eyes. “It’s those feel-good moments that keep you going back for more. Little do they know that I’m there to help, but I really get much more out of it.”

Nineteen years ago Martin birthed her first child. She was a single working mother. With her career coming first, Martin never had the opportunity to accompany her child on field trips or be seen in the hallways during class time.

Last year her second born entered kindergarten and was assigned to McCleskey’s class. Martin said she quickly took every opportunity to help out the first-year kindergarten teacher. This year, her youngest child is in the same kindergarten classroom, and Martin shares her skills with the new first-grade teacher and the entire campus.

“I don’t do any of it for recognition," Martin humbly said. And she is right. In fact, it was her mother that initially brought the story of her dedicated service to the Daily Light. "I do it because I enjoy it. I do it because I love those kids. I do it for the blessings I receive from it, whether it be a smile from a child or seeing them light up and run to me and give me a hug to say, ‘Oh, we’ve missed you.’”

Those brief moments mean the world to Martin. She explained that the impact of this experience fulfills her more than the kiddos know.

“When we were kids, we didn’t have parents [that volunteered] and if we did it was rare," Martin elaborated. "Those parents, whether it be the mom or the dad, contributing —looking back now that I’m older — really played a special part in my life.”

McCleskey and Shackelford principal Theresa Burkhalter sat down and elaborated on the outstanding effort Martin contributes. Martin can often be found making copies of homework, helping students carry trays in the cafeteria or even simply bring a smile to a child with her bright spirit.

Martin typically dedicates three to five days a week and sometimes stays the entire school day. McCleskey said the attitude Martin has is what makes her the best helper.

“She will say, ‘If I don’t know how to do that I’d love to learn.’ So, she always wants to learn more. She is just so bubbly and always positive.”

Burkhalter reiterated that Martin always carries a cheerful presence on campus that ignites her peers. McCleskey added that her personality is well receipted by the students as well and noted they are always delighted to see her in the halls or the classroom.

Martin said she strives to pour her positive attitude into the children in hopes that it will influence them to embody that same mentality and pass it along to others.

As Burkhalter and McCleskey spoke, a three-ring binder sat on the table between the two filled with 254 names documented that have at least one hour of volunteer time at Shackelford this school year. Burkhalter noted a bunch of the names belong to the men who participate in "Dads at the Door" and the many Waxahachie Firefighters who donate their time. She also expressed that Martin is at the top of the list with the number of hours she has contributed.

“If anything is going on, on-campus, like the Christmas store or the book fair, she’s always volunteering and will stay all day or however long she is needed,” McCleskey pointed out.

Martin, along with a couple other volunteers handed out over 500 cups of hot chocolate to students on Wednesday while they watched, “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,” and participated in reindeer games. The day was organized by the special events committee in an attempt to spoil the students before they went home for Christmas break

“Thank you for the many hours she puts in to help and not just with my class or Ms. Yrigoyen, but the whole campus,” McCleskey acknowledged.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450