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A Discussion with Mychael Willon About Volunteering & Learning from your Mistakes: Part One

Mychael Willon has retired from a successful career in education but he still devotes a significant amount of time to supporting local PTSA associations.  He currently serves as the President of the Warhill PTSA, and the Williamsburg/James City County PTA Council.  In addition, he is the District Director of the Peninsula District.  The good thing […]

Mychael Willon
Mychael Willon

Mychael Willon has retired from a successful career in education but he still devotes a significant amount of time to supporting local PTSA associations.  He currently serves as the President of the Warhill PTSA, and the Williamsburg/James City County PTA Council.  In addition, he is the District Director of the Peninsula District.  The good thing about being retired is you can say no, but Mychael Willon rarely turns down an opportunity to help his community.  He feels it is a nice way to stay involved.  Both of his sons are in high school this coming school year, in the 9th and 10th grade, so he wants to stay involved with their schooling, but helping all children has always been a passion for him. Mychael Willon has a special interest in advocating for students, especially for special needs youngsters, minority youngsters, and children of military families. It is a nice way for him to feel he is still contributing. He truly loves the intrinsic rewards that come with volunteering. 

How did you get started in your industry?

“When I was a senior in high school, we had a chance to do some volunteer work at a local state institution for special needs students. It was the Agnew Center in my hometown of Cambridge, Maryland. I did some volunteer time there. I also was teaching Sunday School. I realized I had a real connection with children and a true passion for teaching and that opened the doors to studying Elementary Education in college and pursuing another degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland in College Park. When you see children and you see a light in their eyes, when they actually get it and you are really helping them, it is a truly rewarding experience.”

What do you do in your spare time? What problem are you currently grappling with?

“In my spare time I like gardening, but my biggest passion is volunteering. I really like being involved and doing things with the PTA and the school community, again, trying to find ways to help promote being an advocate for students.

The real issue that I am always dealing with is finding more volunteers. So many parents are engaged in trying to support their families as well as trying to raise a family, it is hard to find very many families that have a parent that is at home or with some time to volunteer. Even if you have a volunteer, if they cannot do something or they had planned to do something, but then they are unable to, you still are stuck with making sure it gets done somehow. You simply can’t fire a volunteer because they are obviously people that are trying to help.

The challenge is always trying to find a balance of how to move forward even when sometimes you are facing that pushback of not being able to find people that have time to give to really help, whether it be organizing for Teacher Appreciation Week or advocating at the state government level to pass bills or get a budget passed. It is trying to be very cognizant of the fact that people have other lives. Supporting our children is the most important thing that any of us has to do. Trying to navigate that so it does not become a barrier, but yet you still have to be aware of the fact that things are going to happen and you will have volunteers that commit to something that they cannot really carry through.

You get caught carrying the ball there, but the good thing about being retired is I can usually carry the ball, but it can be hard when you now have a responsibility for something you were not responsible for originally.

I also focus on helping special needs and at-risk youngsters. I try to be the voice for the families that cannot always speak for those children. I have been on both sides of the table, being a parent and an educator. As an educator, I know what students should be entitled to or what they should have access to in their education, but many parents do not really know what a student should be getting from an IEP or from regular classroom instruction. I try to connect with parents and help advocate for their youngster to make sure they get services that they need and deserve. It is a great feeling when you can help those that do not always know what resources are available. I try to always keep up on what special education can do to help our children, what resources we get through Title I, and all the different services nationally and at the state level as well.”

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

“I think the toughest thing has been knowing how to message this whole pandemic to my boys. We don’t want to color their perception of what’s happening as a failure on our government, but yet we also need to be aware of the fact that things could have been done differently that would have changed this in a very proactive way and that could have possibly saved lives. As a parent, we need to make our children aware that there are always going to be failures and there are certainly things to learn from how you deal with those failures. Even though we may have lost more lives than we should have in those first few months where the government didn’t do some things they should have done, and that is horrible and it’s a real tragedy, but we have to get beyond that and focus on making sure this does not happen again and think about how we can make this better for those that have not lost their lives while supporting the families that suffered losses.

I think the messaging to our kids matters. I want to communicate how to respect officials, respect the government, but also want them to understand the government can make mistakes, and in this case, has made mistakes. But the bottom line is: What did we learn from this? How do we move forward? How do we show true empathy and feelings for those that have unfortunately lost family and friends? How do you heal from this and move forward?

I want my boys to care about people and develop healthy opinions. My youngest son is developmentally delayed, so for him this is much more difficult. But my older son definitely understands that there is a politically charged environment right now that is creating dissonance and creating problems for us as a nation. We can get beyond this and look at how we can do things together. It’s not about who you are and who you represent, but about “we the people” being all of the people. We do not want them talking bad about any of our elected officials. The way to deal with change is voting and trying to invoke change in a positive way, being proactive, not reactive.

The difficulty is trying to make them understand that they should look at every angle, to understand people’s different points of view and respect their points of view. You do not have to agree with them, but people have a right to have a different point of view.

What is your most satisfying moment?

“There is no question, that was the day the adoption of the boys was finalized, the day they actually became my children, and the day that I married my better half. Those are the pinnacle days of my life. That changed my life in every possible way. Those commitments redirect you as a father and as a spouse. They give you a sense of purpose. I always felt purposeful when I was working, but I had never thought about having a true legacy. Your family is your legacy. Anything else you may do, and certainly things I have done professionally are part of my legacy, but there is nothing more important than trying to be a positive role model for your children, to be a supportive spouse in the good times and the bad times. That changes who you are as a person more than anything else. Clearly those two points in my life were the ones that made me the happiest and give me goose bumps to think about. They changed my life for sure. Those two day are beyond special and define my life.”

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