Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Students renew positive outlook on life, push back health scares

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/11/2014

[Editor’s note: The following is the third of three features this week recognizing outstanding volunteers in the community as part of National Volunteer Week. Tim Hendrix was nominated for the feature by Briley Rivers, a preschool teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School.]

After a series of health setbacks, Tim Hendrix questioned whether he had much to live for.

[Editor’s note: The following is the third of three features this week recognizing outstanding volunteers in the community as part of National Volunteer Week. Tim Hendrix was nominated for the feature by Briley Rivers, a preschool teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School.]

After a series of health setbacks, Tim Hendrix questioned whether he had much to live for.

But the children of Eugene Field Elementary School, 720 S. Tremont Ave., Ottawa, gave him a reason to keep going: to watch over the students and serve as the best role model he could be.

“Since 2009 I’ve had three heart attacks ... and more or less gave up on life,” Hendrix said. “And these guys gave me purpose again.”

Hendrix, a member of Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), spends his days as a volunteer walking the halls of Eugene Field and assisting with students as much as he can. He began his service at the beginning of the school year, and has returned for almost every school day since, he said.

Because of his past health problems, Hendrix no longer drives to school, instead opting to ride his bike. Still working to move past his ailments, Hendrix’s work with more than 191 students helps to push him forward.

“The rewards are tremendous. I’ve never gotten so many hugs and high fives,” he said. “They say I do so much for them, but they’ve done a lot more for me. I think if we get more dads or granddads or role models in here, it will do the same for them.”

Briley Rivers, a preschool teacher at Eugene Field, said he nominated Hendrix because of his consistency as a role model and friend for the students. Hendrix even recruits other fathers and grandfathers to be active in Watch D.O.G.S., Rivers said.

“He just goes out of his way to be here for the kids,” Rivers said. “We have some kids with some pretty severe behavior problems and he stepped in, and a lot of people would shy away from that, and he steps in and goes above and beyond what’s asked of Watch D.O.G.S. and works with those kids.

“He really has become part of the family atmosphere here. The times that he’s gone, it’s like were missing one of the staff members.”

Preschool students aren’t specifically part of the Watch D.O.G.S. program, Hendrix said, but he likes to show up in the classes so they don’t feel left out. At the end of the school year, he and his wife plan to bring a cotton candy machine and share with the preschoolers, he said.

One of the ways Hendrix encourages students’ achievements is by giving them stickers when they deserve it, such as when they’ve finished homework or gone out of their way to help another student. He’s already gone through five rolls of stickers, he said.

“I use them as rewards. If they ask for them, I won’t give them,” Hendrix said. “They have to earn them.”

A student with trouble controlling his temper provided Hendrix with one of his most memorable experiences volunteering at the school, he said. Before Hendrix began working with the student, the child’s temper often flared, resulting in multiple trips to the principal’s office. The student was on the verge of suspension, until Hendrix intervened, he said.

“We had a kid not listening to the principal,” Hendrix said. “I sit down by him and I say, ‘I’m old, I’m stubborn, and I’ll sit here as long as it takes.’”

Now that Hendrix has become something of a mentor for the student, he said, he has seen a change. The student might begin to throw a fit, but then reel in his emotions to better control the situation.

“I became a big brother for him,” Hendrix said.

The importance of volunteering with the children has deep meaning for Hendrix, he said. His parents divorced when he was 9, he said, and his father dismissed him and told him they had separate families.

“I was told by my own dad that ‘I have my own family, I don’t need you kids,’” Hendrix said. “So my grandpa raised me. We lived out on Gardner Lake and everyone on the lake called them ‘Grandma and Grandpa.’ So I had one of the best role models and didn’t even know it.”

Giving his time to help the students is great, Hendrix said, but the students contribute to his life too. Coming to school every day gives him a purpose again — even when life seemed bleak, he said. Students give him hugs in the hallway, he said, and some draw or paint him pictures.

But they don’t call him Mr. Hendrix, like he’s a teacher. Instead, he’s known as “Mr. Tim.”

“People ask me why I don’t go by my last name. It’s because I’m a big kid at heart,” Hendrix said.

When Christmastime neared earlier in the school year, Hendrix said a volunteer walked through the halls dressed as Santa Claus. Hendrix, who has a white beard and some might say resembles the famous holiday figure, said students now think he’s the real Santa ... or at least a member of his family.

“I told them it wasn’t me, but now they think Santa Claus is my brother. I told them I don’t give out family secrets,” he said with a smile.

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