Homewood District 153 found a way to say “thanks” and recognize Rick Thiernau, a dedicated volunteer who has given years of service.
In fall, the district’s nomination to the Illinois State Board of Education for Thiernau was accepted and he received a “Those Who Excel” award as a community volunteer. He was one of only seven people recognized across the state.
“I was surprised to be nominated. I always preach you don’t do good work to the recognized, but it is nice to be recognized. I did not expect it,” he said.
Thiernau has given continuous support students at James Hart School, from which he graduated. First and foremost, students know him as the Homewood Rotary Club mentor who often attends their service club meetings.
“As a life-long Rotarian, he lives and breathes the Rotary’s motto of ‘service above self’ and makes decisions based on the Rotary’s 4-Way Test demonstrating this to all the students, families and community members in Homewood,” said Superintendent Dale Mitchell.
Thiernau was instrumental in helping the district start its Early Act Club and Interact Club that reinforce the value of helping others. When Millennium closed, the two clubs merged into the Interact Club at Hart School.
Working with the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in Interact gives Thiernau the opportunity of “introducing service and bringing it to the front of their minds,” he said. “I think somewhere in the back of most of us is: you should do something nice for someone else. I’d like to bring that idea home.”
Interact has teacher volunteers Cathryne Czarnecki, Karen Gnatt and Monica Sendera.
Czarnecki helped organize Interact at Hart and Gnatt worked with Early Act at Millennium when the programs organized in 2012. Interact meets at 7:05 a.m. on Tuesdays. It has grown from its initial 12 members to more than 30 members today.
Students have responded to the Interact Club ideals. “It’s good to give back to the community,” said eighth grade member Wynton Wright. Seventh grader Alessia Faso, a past president of Interact, agreed. “I just like helping everybody.”
“I think I have preached to them and to adults to commit to doing one nice act for someone everyday. It can be as simple as (saying) thank you,” Thiernau said. “Rarely do you hear a kind word today. I really emphasize that.”
Czarnecki said the group tries to do a project a month. In October, they sold pink pumpkins and gave the money to the Cancer Support Center in Homewood.
“We raised over $500. We then donated that money on Giving Tuesday and it tripled to $1,500 when the donation was matched,” she said.
In November students donated $1 for the jeans day fundraiser for the Jeans for Troops project that supported veterans causes. In December, Interact Club members made holiday cards for kids and families at a Ronald McDonald House and now they are making cards for seniors in hospice care.
“Our biggest project coming up will be Books for Africa. We collect books and school supplies that will be sent (to Atlanta) to the organization Books for Africa. They sort it all and have it ready to go for any country in Africa that is in need. We collect new and gently used books and any kind of school supply,” Czarnecki said.
Gnatt’s favorite project was collecting items for the South Suburban Humane Society in Chicago Heights.
“I enjoy doing this club because I love teaching our students how to give to others and the importance of it. It’s also great to show them that little gestures will go a long way. I get really excited when our students start coming up with ideas of their own,” said said.
Thiernau is delighted with the success of his young Rotarians and the success of Foundation 153, the fundraising arm of District 153 that helps underwrite special projects in the schools. As a founding member, his knowledge as a financial advisor was helpful when the group was organizing.
Thiernau also was a member of a 1990s group that shared business principles with Hart students, and he volunteered on a curriculum assessments committee.
“Rick has always been a steadfast supporter of our schools,” said District 153 School Board President Shelly Marks. “As a founding board member of Foundation 153 he helped lay the ground work that has been so important in the foundation’s ongoing success. He has been an important connection between the school district and the Homewood business community (and is ) willing to give his time and support when we need him.”