Lenape District Support Staff Association builds community through Pride

On a chilly, damp morning in late March, the school bus drivers, custodians and grounds, maintenance, and mechanics staff who comprise the Lenape District Support Staff Association (LDSSA) masked up and met in the parking lot of A Rose in December. The popular Medford flower shop is owned by December Giberson-Shover, whose son Zachary Shover joined the army after graduating from Seneca High School in 2015. LDSSA was there to help stuff two buses with supplies for soldiers deployed overseas for a local charity known as Operation Yellow Ribbon.

The members of the LDSSA are well-known in Lenape Regional community, which spans eight townships in Burlington County and includes four high schools. LDSSA’s applications for grants from the NJEA Pride in Public Education program is key to its community outreach.

“We do about six or seven events a year, and we receive about $7,000 a year in Pride grants,” said LDSSA Pride Chair Brian Margerum.

Margerum explained that LDSSA’s annual events typically include a Back to School Night table, a Halloween Trunk or Treat, a winter charity event, a toy drive, and a Martin Luther King Day fundraiser for a Burlington County shelter. At the end of the year, LDSSA invites the community to a “We Thank You” barbecue.

The events usually have a theme, Jackie Robel, the association’s secretary and events coordinator said. Last year’s Trunk or Treat had a barnyard theme, for example, and Robel is already thinking about next year’s themes.

“We do everything to show the community who we are—that we’re more than support staff,” Robel said.

Operation Yellow Ribbon

LDSSA President Marijean Andl knows the value of delegation. Margerum is the Pride chair, so when it comes to Pride events, Andl doesn’t micromanage the program.

But Operation Yellow Ribbon is different.

“This is my thing—I make them do this,” Andl jokes. Andl brought the Operation Yellow Ribbon to the LDSSA Pride program after talking with Giberson-Shover about it.

It’s clear from LDSSA members’ enthusiasm, that Andl doesn’t have to push too hard. There are plenty of volunteers from LDSSA as well as district students, including JROTC cadets, and parents.

Operation Yellow Ribbon’s mission is to assemble care packages for U.S. troops serving in the Middle East, explained David Silver, president of Operation Yellow Ribbon. The nonprofit, 100% volunteer organization accepts toiletries, personal items, and nonperishable snack items, powdered beverages and other treats that bring a serving of gratitude and a taste of home to those serving our nation. Operation Yellow Ribbon also accepts cash donations for the purchase of such items.

“I didn’t serve, but this is so rewarding,” Silver said. “The more you do, the more the troops respond. And the more they respond, the more you want to do.”

LDSSA is a Platinum Sponsor of Operation Yellow Ribbon with its $750 donation. With Pride funding LDSSA also served bagels and coffee for breakfast and hot dogs, soda and other snacks for lunch. LDSSA also worked with the district to secure buses to stuff with donations.

“The district is awesome about it,” Andl said. “We told them we needed one bus. At the last minute we’re telling them ‘Oh, we need two.’ They said, ‘No problem.’”

In addition to her pride in LDSSA, Andl is proud of her community.

“The people in this area have been awesome,” she said. “About 60 local businesses are giving either monetary donations or supplies on top of what families have donated. Last year, we raised about $13,000, this year we’ve raised $26,000, and we’re probably going to have more than we can squeeze into two buses.”

Giberson-Shover has a long history of volunteerism in the community. For 11 years, she has worked with the Lenape School District transitional program. She accepts district students with special needs and, through her business, mentors them in life and work skills. But Giberson-Shover goes far beyond the minimum expectations.

“We started doing community projects,” she said. “Through the years we’ve worked the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation, DECA, the JROTC, and Packages for Patriots.” Operation Yellow Ribbon is another one of those projects.

Giberson-Shover continues her mentoring long after the students graduate. For the Operation Yellow Ribbon collection day, she called on one her son’s friends, Joe Knecht III, to entertain donors with his electric guitar. The former student with special needs, who first learned to play piano at five years old, ultimately graduated from the Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. His aim is to one day become a teacher of music to students with special needs. Giberson-Shover aims to help him.

For more information about Operation Yellow Ribbon, visit operationyellowribbon.org. For more about NJEA’s pride program, visit njea.org/pride.