Ask Pam Neely how she got started volunteering in the Abington schools and the answer is simple.
“I went to the Center School one time for a PTO meeting and she was talking about all the different ways to help the kids and how to be involved and that’s how it started,” said Neely.
She started sitting on the floor wrapping parents for the Beaver Brook Elementary School Holiday Shop, which was one of Deirdre’s favorite events. And in the years since, Neely has volunteered at countless other PTO events. She is also the current co-chair of the Woodsdale Elementary PTO, and treasurer of the townwide PTO, which coordinates across all the district’s parent/teacher groups.
So it made sense that she was named the first recipient of The Deirdre Award, a new annual award that recognizes parents who selflessly donate their time on behalf of the town’s students and schools.
“[Pam is] at every event. She doesn’t miss a meeting. She really is just so dedicated and passionate. And she also is inspiring,” said April Eriksen, who serves as secretary for the townwide PTO. “She gets a lot of people excited about events because she exudes a little bit of passion to everyone else.”
Deirdre was a mother of three Abington schoolchildren known for her incredible dedication to the town’s schools. She regularly volunteered at special events, and attended every school-related meeting she could, even if it meant rushing off the commuter train from Boston and heading directly to one of the town’s schools. Although she wasn’t an elected member of the school committee, she was a lead organizer behind-the- scenes, rallying other parents behind causes such as full-day kindergarten, and coordinating school events.
Deirdre and her three children were lost tragically three years ago today.
The award came about as the townwide PTO thought about ways to honor Deirdre, as well as create the parent equivalent of the Chester J. Millet Jr. Award, which recognizes the Abington school district’s outstanding teachers and support personnel.
Eriksen, like Neely, said it was Deirdre who first got her involved in volunteering for the schools.
“Deirdre was such as presence in the PTO world and the community in general,” said Eriksen. “So it was important to us to honor her and give the award to someone we felt embodied the same dedication and passion and commitment to the students in this community.”
Neely, who grew up in Brockton and has two daughters, said she was “shocked and honored” when notified that she won, but also embarrassed. As a member of the townwide PTO, she had been instrumental in establishing the award, as well as securing the blessing of Deirdre’s family.
Nominations came from members of the Abington school community. After she found out she had been nominated, Eriksen said Neely asked to have her name withdrawn to avoid an appearance of conflict. The request was denied.
“Pam was very uncomfortable with the idea she had been nominated, but she was actually nominated by more than one individual,” Eriksen said.
Those who know both mothers say Neely was a perfect choice, precisely because, like Deirdre, she didn’t want the recognition.
“Deirdre was a selfless volunteer who never looked for credit. However, she was consistently behind the scenes working to support children in Abington,” said Abington School Superintendent Peter Schafer. “Pam has served on countless volunteer committees and with groups as a participant and leader because she puts the children of Abington at the forefront. The benefits of her good work have made and make a positive difference.”
Townwide PTO Co-Chair Keri Westhaver said its nice to be able to recognize parents who give a lot of their time.
“I think Deirdre probably would have rolled her eyes over it because she hated the attention,” Westhaver said. “She would’ve deserved the recognition though. If we had more parents like Deirdre and Pam, we would be able to get a lot more things done.”
Other parents nominated for the Deirdre Award were Rachel Collins, Melissa Merrick, Susan Nash, Melanie Whitney, and Katie Williamson
Neely said she was honored to be considered alongside Deirdre.
“I always thought she went above and beyond in everything she did,” Neely said. “Someone recognized me and I’m very appreciative of it. I wasn’t looking for recognition at all.”
All of her volunteering commitments means Neely has a persistent to-do list.
“Every couple days I know there’s something I have to look at, or tend to, or reach out to someone,” she said. “It can be very stressful at times but all very worth it for the kids.”