NEW PORT RICHEY — Margaret Francis sat on a stool, tucking picture books into their proper slots in the Fox Hollow Elementary School media center.
The media specialist was out sick. So, too, was the media assistant. The center, as a result, was closed for the day.
None of that deterred Francis.
At 89, she looks forward to her twice-weekly volunteer time. So she just picked up some work that needed doing, and got busy.
"I enjoy it," Francis explained Monday. "I just feel like I'm doing a little good, helping out."
Principal Lisa Miller had nothing but high praise for Francis. So, too, did Pasco school district volunteer coordinator Randee Williams, who introduced Francis on Tuesday as the county's senior volunteer of the year.
"She's just terrific," Williams said.
Williams said the district's 854 active retired volunteers have a special place in the school system.
"The retired volunteers have so many skills, abilities, talents and time to offer," she said.
They help tutor or mentor students, or offer assistance that frees teachers and other educators to work with the children.
"The retired volunteers can just make all the difference in the world for students," Williams said.
Not only that, the opportunity offers community members a venue to remain vital and active. Many times, the volunteers thank the schools that are thanking them for their time and effort.
Francis saw that outlet as key to staying youthful, even as she ages.
"I see people, not my age because not many are as old as I am … who sit around and do nothing but complain," she said. "If they'd get out and do something, it makes you feel good."
Francis, a former high school teacher who resigned to help run her husband's travel business, first started volunteering at Fox Hollow when her granddaughter Samantha began kindergarten. She helped with field trips, fundraisers, PTA activities and more.
Samantha moved on — she's attending college now — but Francis remained.
"The people are friendly here," said Francis, who also used to stay active by playing softball and traveling. "It gets me out of the house. And I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile."
She's seen many changes over the years. Fox Hollow has seen as many as 1,100 students a year during her time, and as few as 600. It has gained new classroom wings and portables. Kids have become different, too, she said.
"Teachers have no way to control them anymore," Francis observed. "To me, it's foolishness to say you can't correct a child. They don't get it at home and they don't get it at school. They've lost that sense of looking up to teachers."
She said she was honored to receive the district recognition, but stressed that was never her motivation. And she plans to continue until she can't make the trip to school anymore.
"I am young at heart," Francis said.
The school district also recognized volunteers of the year Shelby Thompson, youth category, Wesley Chapel High, and Kim Clarke, adult category, Sand Pine Elementary.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.