Brashinger: Meet Mokena Junior High’s super volunteer
By GinGer Brashinger Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org April 4, 2013 1:06PM
Laurie Connolly checks in concession stand volunteers for the Mokena Athletic Boosters at the Mokena Junior High School's final basketball tournament of the season. | Ginger Brashinger~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2013 6:09AM
Laurie Connolly, of Mokena, is what many people might consider a super volunteer.
“I’ve never had a parent who has been this dedicated to a cause,” Mike Rolinitis, principal of Mokena Junior High School, said. “In my 18 years as an administrator, I’ve had some very good parent volunteers, but Laurie has been so above and beyond.”
Connolly has been a Mokena Athletic Boosters volunteer for the past six years. Her daughters — Veronica, 18, and Jill, 16, students at Lincoln-Way East High School, and Valerie, 14, an eighth-grader at the junior high — are the reasons for her involvement.
“I used to volunteer when they were in elementary school,” Connolly said. “Children of that age love to see their mother show up at school.”
She said it was natural for her to become involved when her daughters attended junior high, although their excitement at seeing a parent at school wasn’t quite the same once they hit their teenage years.
Her commitment never wavered, however, and was especially exciting this year when the eighth-grade girls’ basketball team, of which Valerie is a member, went to the state championships.
Connolly isn’t the only volunteer in the family. She said her volunteer work with the booster club began in earnest when her husband, Peter Connolly, was asked to take over as club president after helping out with a tournament six years ago and she “sort of came in as a package deal.”
“I like to tell people that (Peter) was president, and I was vice president, secretary, treasurer and concessions coordinator — whatever needed to be done,” Connolly said. “It’s pretty much just the two of us that are names on the committee.”
Connolly isn’t complaining, even though her work began months before the basketball season did. She was busy getting school registrations in order, finding volunteers, coordinating high school students for service hours and ordering banners in addition to her work in planning concessions.
A tournament weekend alone may require an eight-hour work day and a second six-hour day of concession work and clean-up, but Connolly is fine with the work load.
“We do get a lot of outside help and volunteers,” she said.
Connolly sees her commitment a bit differently than those who are amazed at the time and energy she puts into it.
“I do this, No. 1, because I really like being involved in things my children do,” she said. “I get to know their teachers, the administration, the maintenance staff, kitchen help, kids and their parents. It just makes you a better parent to be involved with their lives.”
Her second reason is because it “takes my mind off personal issues,” she said.
Connolly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, after which she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer recurred in October 2011.
“I am on chemotherapy now and probably will be forever,” she said.
Rolinitis said he has been amazed to watch her work at such a high energy level through her health crises. He said he knew there were times Connolly wasn’t feeling well or was feeling weak, but she never failed to show up and give it her all.
“She’s struggled through so many things,” Rolinitis said. “Even when we told her she could back off her work, she would keep going. She and her husband have always been so positive, promoting Mokena and the junior high and the kids in a way that makes everybody feel good.”
Connolly had her reasons.
“If I can be an example to somebody else to get up every day and live your life and love your kids, I’m happy to do that. So many people helped me when I got sick. Whatever I can give back, I’m happy to give back,” she said.
And her volunteer work isn’t ending now that the last Connolly daughter is graduating from junior high.
“We’ll move on to high school and see what we can get involved in there,” she said. “I encourage everyone to volunteer because it’s really a good way to become involved in your kids’ lives.”