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School greeter programs seeking volunteers

WORTHINGTON -- If he can get one kid to smile, Bill Knigge considers his job a job well done. The job seems simple enough, but helping hundreds of kids get one day of the week off to a good start is invaluable. That's why A.C.E. of Southwest Minn...

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Bill Knigge greets Worthington Middle School students as they come through the doors Tuesday morning. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - If he can get one kid to smile, Bill Knigge considers his job a job well done.

The job seems simple enough, but helping hundreds of kids get one day of the week off to a good start is invaluable. That’s why A.C.E. of Southwest Minnesota is looking to recruit more volunteers for its school greeter program. For one day a week, greeters welcome students to school with a smile or a handshake.

“It sounds pretty benign and what’s the big deal, but what happens is that (the students) grow up and get to know (the volunteers),” said Nobles County Coordinator for A.C.E. Joanne Bartosh. “Some kids actually build relationships with those volunteers.”

That’s exactly what happened for Bernice Camery and one student in particular during her more than 30 years as a greeter at Worthington High School.

Camery kept in touch with a young man that befriended her when he was a student at WHS. She got to witness his relationship with his eventual wife evolve from two teenagers to when he decided to pop the question.  

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It was at the wedding when Camery was taken aback. She was signing the guest book when someone came up and pinned a flower on her. In the program, she was listed as best friend of the groom.

“I had no idea I was going to be an honored guest,” Camery said.  

The lifelong friendship that began at the entryway of the high school is just one instance that has reinforced the impact that Camery and the school greeters make on the students.

After a sudden passing of Camery’s husband and fellow school greeter, Don, the school placed memorial flowers from his funeral at the spot where he greeted kids. Students also signed a sympathy card for Camery.

Every inch of the card and an accompanying piece of paper were completely covered with student signatures offering their sympathy to their beloved greeters.

“I was overwhelmed with that,” she said.

The school greeter program, which began more than 30 years ago, has been consistently operating in the high school, and 11 years in the middle school.

Daryl Doeden was part of the program’s inception at the middle school.

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“I’ve almost seen the entire rotation of kids all through school,” Doeden said.

Knigge, who also greets at the middle school, said he likes to tease the students, which the kids have fun with. He also embraces the name kids have unanimously given him when they see him out in the community.

“They’ll say, ‘you’re that handshaker guy,’” Knigge chuckled.

There are currently eight greeters at the high school and four at the middle school. Prairie Elementary does not have a team, and is looking for a group of willing volunteers to come interact with students once a week.

Prairie Principal Heidi Meyer said it’s a goal of elementary staff to start every student’s day on a positive note.
“We want them to feel warm and welcome from the moment they walk through the door,” Meyer said. “The school greeter program helps with that mission. It’s amazing what a simple smile and handshake can do to lay the foundation for a good day.”

Bartosh said the school greeter program is equally as beneficial for the senior citizens that volunteer.

“They get to meet the kids in the community,” she said. “I'm always about intergenerational work - getting kids with the older folks - that's community.”

In an effort to recruit more volunteers for the middle school and elementary greeter programs, an informational meeting will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Center for Active Living.

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“It’s a very simple program, but it touches a lot of kids that come through the door,” Bartosh said.  

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