A newsmaker you should know: Derry Area teacher honored for Kids in Need organization

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David McCleary calls himself an “idea man,” but when he talks about KIND, or the Kids in Need in Derry program, he is quick to point out that it isn’t his project, but one that came together through the work of many.

“This never would have happened without a group of folks. I’m just one,” he said.

Mr. McCleary, a learning support teacher at the Derry Area High School, was recently honored by the American Red Cross Western Pennsylvania Region with the Educator Hero Award for his work with Kids in Need.

“Our Educator Hero Award serves to recognize and honor an individual from the education field who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Mr. McCleary is certainly fitting of that description and deserving of the award,” said Lauren Ashley, regional communications officer for the American Red Cross, Western Pennsylvania Region.

Ms. Ashley said Mr. McCleary’s efforts — especially with KIND — made him stand out.

“His contributions to the district and the community have been significant. From spearheading Kid in Need to helping to arrange service opportunities for students, Mr. McCleary shows dedication to education, commitment to his students and compassion for those in need,” she said.

Kids in Need is a program that helps provide supplies for educational programs to families in the district who may need help.

“We provide things that can be tied into education — that can be supplies, that can be gym shoes, that could be a yearbook,” Mr. McCleary said.

KIND started four years ago after a faculty meeting. Mr. McCleary said principal Kathy Perry told teachers that nine students at the school could not go through graduation ceremonies because they couldn’t afford their caps and gowns.

“We all looked at her and then everyone started reaching into their pockets to collect enough money,” he said.

That prompted further conversations and the creation of KIND. The group works under the Derry Area Foundation non-profit organization.

“One night, I was stressing the whole evening over what we could call it — I wanted something catchy — and my friend said, ‘What about KIND, Kids in Need in Derry?’” Mr. McCleary said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education PA School Performance Profile, 37 percent of the 750 students at Derry Area High School and 45 percent of the 510 students at the middle school are considered economically disadvantaged. KIND helps all grade levels of students in the district.

“We don’t want any of our kids to feel different than the others because of money,” he said.

When word spread through the community, donations started coming in, both in money and school supplies.

Over the past four years, the program has grown to include the KIND Closet, a classroom full of clothes and other items for children and adults. Each of the three buildings has its own KIND Closet.

“Kids can go in and get what they need, and parents can come in before or after school hours,” he said.

Mr. McCleary doesn’t have an official title with KIND — no one does, he said — but he is considered the representative for the program. The program does not conduct fundraisers because of private donations and those from local churches.

Mr. McCleary said the program not only raises money for educational needs, but it also raises awareness.

“A lot of people think public education is free, but there are a lot of costs associated with it,’’ he said.

The honor bestowed on Mr. McCleary by the American Red Cross came as a surprise, he said.

“I was checking my messages while my wife and I were sitting on our porch and I said to her, ‘I think I won an award,’” he said. He read the email to his wife and she replied, “It sure sounds like an award to me.”

Mr. McCleary then texted his principal, Ms. Perry.

“I asked Dr. Perry if she knew anything about this and she just sent me a smiley face in return,” he said.

Mr. McCleary said the honor was a nice recognition for the program.

“This is my 27th year of teaching and it is nice to know that people know we do a whole lot more than just teaching,” he said.

Mr. McCleary is quick to point out that the honor is for everyone in the community.

“This program works because everyone is involved. It is our community helping our community,” he said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving.com@post-gazette.com.

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