Everyday Heroes reclaim the promise every day

Members from each division honored for going above and beyond the call of duty

Krystal Woolston

When your job title has “service” in it, people expect you to be outer-directed. But for Krystal Woolston, AFT Higher Education’s Everyday Hero, helping others is more than a job—it’s a calling and a gift.

Woolston is the assistant director of service learning and community engagement at Montclair State University in New Jersey. In that job, she sets up opportunities for MSU students to do service projects like tutoring middle school students in nearby Orange, N.J., becoming part of AmeriCorps and, when disaster hits, organizing relief efforts. She has also brought opportunities to volunteer at local food banks to her union, the Montclair State Faculty, Professional Staff and Librarians.

After Superstorm Sandy, she spent weekends serving up breakfast to coastal residents and reconstruction volunteers. This summer, she is working at a camp that reunites separated foster care siblings.

“Something that I love about doing service is that it’s small and personal, and it lets you get to know people on an individual level and make a difference in their lives,” Woolston told delegates at the AFT convention this summer. “I am lucky to have a job that gives me the flexibility to do this work. I thank my union for that.”

Richie Pawlak—the AFT’s 2014 PSRP Everyday Hero—can’t say no to a good cause.

A computer programmer for Morton College in Cicero, Ill., and a member of the Cook County College Teachers Union, Pawlak plays in three bands, and every October, one of them—the Mud Pie Band—helps promote Breast Cancer Awareness Day in his suburban Chicago neighborhood of Berwyn. Pawlak also solicits donations for a fundraising raffle and helps the firefighters union sell chocolate bars for the cause. Last year, the event raised more than $10,000 to promote breast cancer awareness.

Pawlak also organizes coat drives and food drives at Morton College, where he has worked for 30 years, helps run the union’s Toys for Tots program and raises money for Alzheimer’s research.

Jim Cardin, a member of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, and the AFT Public Employees Everyday Hero, worked with students to create an inexpensive foot prosthetic for civil war amputee victims in Africa. He also covered the workload for a colleague who was battling cancer, and helped him with retirement papers when the illness forced him to leave work. When another colleague suffered a heart attack, Cardin worked with the union and the school system’s human resources department to secure his salary and benefits.

Lisa d’Abrosca, Stephanie Johnson and Harry Rodriguez, the presidents of Locals 5049, 5051 and 5123, which represent healthcare workers at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., modeled cooperation as they fought together this winter through a strike, a lockout and, finally, successful contract negotiations. Together they took Everyday Hero honors for AFT Nurses and Health Professionals.

Maria Alamo, a prekindergarten paraeducator from the Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association in New York, is the AFT Early Childhood Educators Everyday Hero. She provides a crucial bridge for families whose native language is not English, not only by helping them learn the language but also by urging them to participate at school, creating a sense of family and tuning in to individual students’ needs.

AFT Retirees’ hero Carol Keiser, a retired teacher from the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, uses her 28 years of classroom experience to mentor new teachers and help grow the membership of her local’s retiree chapter, which now has more than 2,000 members.

Julie Ahern, a second-grade teacher from the Lake County Federation of Teachers in Waukegan, Ill., and the Everyday Hero of the AFT Teachers division, finds new resources and opportunities for economically challenged families at her school, securing donations of classroom laptops and iPads, funds to restore her school’s greenhouse, and school visits from children’s literature superstars like Captain Underpants series creator Dav Pilkey.

AFT On Campus, Fall 2014
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On Campus Fall 2014 cover image