Barbara Donner: Creating Rainbows at The Starfish Academy

by Sandy Chase, Guest Writer

Barbara Donner radiates sunshine while visiting with Rachida Ait Balla’s class.  Whether it’s an art project or story-telling, Barbara devotes her attention—helping to nourish and encourage these 18-month through 3-year-olds attain their full potential.

Barbara, a volunteer with The Florida Center since the spring, has been making a difference in the lives of these at-risks kids.  A retired teacher, she had learned about The Florida Center while taking a field trip to that venue through the Classroom on Wheels.

“Participating in the ACE (Adult and Community Enrichment) class afforded me and my classmates an opportunity to learn about community organizations first-hand.  In the spring, I visited the Florida Center for Early Childhood and I was hooked.”

That was the day, Barbara followed her rainbow.

“While sitting in one of the classrooms and learning about The Florida Center, I met a little girl who wanted me to read to her.  With book in hand, she led me to a corner where after the first story, she wanted to hear another one.  I had to join my classmates on the bus, so I said my good-byes, but I knew I would be back.”

Barbara’s volunteering has made a world of difference for the kids.

“Ms. Barbara has been very helpful with our class.  She helps with snack time and reads stories to the children, and especially helps during center time.  She’s also able to work one-on-one with the students and gives them the opportunity to work on a project with her and receive individualized attention,” said Rachida Ait Balla

Volunteering at The Florida Center has also benefited Barbara.

“During the school year, I help tutor first-grade students for whom English is a second language (ESL) at a Manatee elementary school.  But once school was out, I missed the little ones,’ and my grandchildren are beyond this age.  I needed a small-child fix!”

Starting in June of this year, Barbara got her wish.  The happiness in Barbara’s voice resonates. “It’s exciting to have a 2 ½ year-old paint one hand blue, the other yellow, and then shake hands with himself and create green!  The freshness of discovery in a child’s eyes is priceless and I consider it my ‘salary check’.  I walk out with a smile on my face and sanitizer on my hands.”

Barbara downplays how she’s helping these kids succeed. Rachida sees it differently.

“Last week was a great experience for the kids.  She worked on an art project with each child, which helped them learn, as they mixed colors and tried new things,” Rachida said.