These are the Elna Flynn award winners from Pacifica School District. Each of these women volunteered countless hours before earning an award named after a grandmother who volunteered at Portola School, formerly part of the Pacifica School District, now part of San Bruno Park School District. The award winners will be honored at a dinner on Friday.
▸ Ortega Elementary School honors Andriana Antoniou as its 2023 recipient of the Elna Flynn Award. Antoniou has been an active volunteer at Ortega for five years as a PTO board member, a classroom parent for children Marianthi and Demetri, and much more. She can be seen around campus volunteering at pretty much every event: from selling popsicles on Wednesdays to door decorating during teacher appreciation week to carnival cakewalks.
As the PTO communications secretary, Antoniou is the voice of Ortega, crafting and publishing the weekly Otter Town News, writing blog posts, managing the PTO’s Facebook page, coordinating external communications about Ortega fundraisers and events, and keeping the website up-to-date so everyone is in the know. She is the glue that holds the team together, working tirelessly to ensure that events are covered and that everyone is on the same page. Antoniou steps in when volunteers are lacking or events need more coverage. She is an incredible gift and Ortega is a better school because of her tireless dedication.
▸ Linda Mar Educational Center is honored to recognize Lisa Uyechi-O’Brien as the Elna Flynn Award winner this year. Uyechi-O’Brien has been a blessing to the preschool special education program. In a time when getting extra help and finding a substitute is difficult, Uyechi-O’Brien has been a dependable individual who LMEC can always count on when short staffed.
When working with the students, she instinctively knows where her help is needed and when to step back to encourage independent skills. She always checks in with staff on where she is needed and is always willing to accept suggestions on how to support the students. Uyechi-O’Brien makes every effort to spend equal time interacting with each student. Her flexibility has been a positive benefit for the staff, and her calm demeanor helps put the students at ease. Although, she underestimates the power of her presence, Uyechi-O’Brien has been an invaluable help to LMEC and a saving grace that enables staff to do the job well.
▸ Bridget Hardt, a Southern California native, moved to the Bay Area in 2007 and settled in Pacifica in 2016 with her husband and baby boy. She joined the Sunset Ridge PTO last year when her son started kindergarten to get involved in her community. The way she jumped into and shaped the role of room parent coordinator, offered help in the classroom and volunteered for every event perfectly embodies Hardt’s personality: warm, helpful, empathetic and thoughtful. From these experiences, she saw a need for the PTO to more clearly communicate and connect with the Sunset Ridge community.
This year, Hardt took on the challenge of PTO treasurer. She performs this volunteer position as a professional, contributing countless hours to thoughtfully investigating how a PTO should run, updating important documents, and communicating spending and earnings transparently. She cares deeply about inclusion, clear communication and making sure that every family and staff member knows that they are a part of the PTO; she goes out of her way to connect with staff to check in with them and their needs. She brings her fun, positive and approachable attitude to everything she does.
▸ Originally from Massachusetts, Rebecca Slater moved to San Francisco to immerse herself in Bay Area culture and pursue her teaching career. In 2020, with two young children, the Slater family moved to Pacifica. Settling into her new home during the pandemic, Slater reached out to her community for support. She started volunteering on the PTO board as secretary when her oldest started kindergarten at Sunset Ridge. She cares about the hopes and goals of the school community and empowers people to participate.
As president this year, she was determined to cultivate the PTO, to nurture and grow alongside it, with and for the community. In the beginning, Slater surveyed families with the hope to get input from everyone. Then she created a collective space, a system, not only to track every step of every process to help her and others stay organized but also for future volunteers, to efficiently manage the organization. At the front of most fundraisers, Slater spends time creating and producing commercials starring SRE students. Her method of leadership is to be inclusive and flexible; she gives people space to be their best selves. When a fundraiser or event is finished, she asks for feedback, taking note of changes to make next year, and recognizes both the people that helped facilitate and those who attended. She is generous, compassionate, inclusive and curious. Slater is wholly dedicated to making a lasting impact on our community.
▸ Cristin Fong and her three children have been a part of the Ocean Shore community for 10 years. She has held practically every volunteer position you can imagine: special projects coordinator, class ombud, field trip driver, etc. She has been on our PTO board for nine years, including vice president. Fong has taught science and art, and has helped organize school wide events such as Diversity Day, Challenge Day and Multicultural Night as a part of our Diversity Learning Group. She has organized and directed the Talent Show for seven years, even during the pandemic.
Fong is a force of nature and if she says she's going to do something, she does it, no matter how difficult it may be. She makes the impossible, possible. Her greatest love is music. Through her company, Illuminate Music, we have had the good fortune of having Fong as our K-2 music teacher for the past four years. This year she taught at Vallemar as well and is equally appreciated by them. The entire Ocean Shore community is grateful for her dedication and for her gift of music. As Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
▸ Renee Koren was surprised when she was told she was an Elna Flynn honoree, but she was the only choice. The rest of the Ocean Shore staff took that as a given. Koren started volunteering at Ocean Shore in 2010, supporting her grandson, Sebastian. Now he's about to graduate from Oceana High School. Rowan Smith-Johnson, her granddaughter, will graduate from Ocean Shore this spring. Koren was a retired insurance executive with a passion for reading who quickly got involved and started volunteering in the library. When Renee started helping, Ocean Shore had no paid library staff and the library was organized in an antiquated way. She managed and reconfigured the library. With her lead, books were organized by subject categories making finding books easier to find, along with assigned reading levels and genre designations.
The PTO and principal periodically would offer to pay her, but Koren felt strongly about giving back to her community and refused payment. She worked full time, for free, for over 10 years. Now that Rowan is graduating, Koren is moving on as well. The entire staff will miss her quick wit, love of reading and her deep commitment to Ocean Shore's students.
▸ Suzanne Lifson Salazar has been volunteering in and around Cabrillo since her daughter Bianca began kindergarten nine years ago. Her remarkable impacts to the community have been truly outstanding. As the co-vice president for the After School Enrichment Program from 2017-2022, Lifson Salazar and her co-vice chairs ushered in tremendous growth, offering more classes under the new leadership. Always the effective marketer, she shared what she learned at PTO meetings to spread the word for this great program. Her positive presence has been appreciated every year, whether teaching French, as transportation coordinator, checking in book bags, cooking Chinese food in the hallway, displaying class art projects, at the Book Fair, Field Days, Back to School night, Halloween, Spring Galas, Splash of Color or donating supplies while helping at every possible class event and party.
Notably, Lifson Salazar presented her work as a co-author of WiKIDly Awesome Travels, inspiring all of our young writers. Her advocacy for the community is amazing. She served as Parent Council representative, fundraising for the education foundation, and volunteering for Measure O. She is currently on the graduation committee, as her daughter prepares for high school. Lifson Salazar’s involvement conveys her belief that if everyone does a little, a lot gets done. A learning environment is Suzanne’s happy place, and Cabrillo is happier and healthier to have her.
▸ Ingrid B Lacy is honored to present the 2023 Elna Flynn award to Michelle Gray. Gray is the mom of two kids who attend Vallemar and Ingrid B. Lacy, and is a fixture at both schools. She was on the Vallemar PTO for many years and after serving as Parent Council representative last year for IBL, stepped in as president. At IBL she is often on campus and most kids think she works there. (Don’t tell the boss at her real job!). Gray can be found talking with the teachers and staff about what they need, helping in the library, selling popsicles or snacks or just stepping in where needed. She has supported various activities such as Ruby Bridges Walk to School day, Challenge Day for seventh graders, and is trying to bring new events and opportunities to the school such as having the students make cards for World Kindness Day or launching the successful IBL ROCKS fundraiser for the grown-ups.
Gray’s enthusiasm is obvious and she makes it clear that her main goal is to make sure everyone feels a part of this amazing middle school community and is supported. Then there are the “little” side projects she likes to take on. Working with PSD to repair the track at Vallemar, making the field at IBL usable for students during P.E. and for Pacifica sports groups, and spearheading the Beautification Committee to spruce up the campus and more. She has always done all she can do to benefit the kids, and she has become an integral part of the community in the process.
▸ Vallemar School honors Sarah Benavides. She is a Bay Area native, and has lived in Pacifica with her husband for 16 years. They now reside in Vallemar with their two kids — Julian and Dominic, as well as two dogs and a cat. Benavides is an executive assistant at a Biotech, and just celebrated her 20th anniversary there. In her spare time, she loves painting, crafting, baking, true crime podcasts, binging a great TV show, game nights, and getting outside with the dogs.
Benavides got involved in the Vallemar PTO when her oldest son started kindergarten and officially joined the board the following year. She has held many positions since she joined from activities coordinator to co-president and says she found each role incredibly rewarding. Volunteerism has become a staple in her life, and Benavides says she feels incredibly grateful to have had so many amazing experiences, made some of the best friends, learned a ton and felt pride in her contributions to the school.
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