When you hear the word retired, it tends to evoke images of someone who spends their days fishing, playing golf or taking naps. However, the members of Kern Retired Teachers Association are doing anything but resting on their laurels.
The group, which is the third-largest retired teachers’ group in California, boasts a total of 1,053 members throughout Kern County. Over the past year, their volunteer hours totaled more than 66,000, which saved those they serve close to $2 million in would-be labor costs.
Probably best known for their grants and scholarships – they give out 12 scholarships of $3,500 each to students who have completed their bachelor’s degree and are entering teacher education programs – and they also give grants to new teachers. This year, they awarded 37 new teacher grants to K-12 teachers in their first through third year of teaching. Teachers may apply for a grant in order to fund special projects within their classrooms.
No other division in California gives away as much money as Kern County does.
“Teacher grant monies are raised through fundraisers, held twice a year at luncheons called, “Dollars for Scholars,” according to Matt Michael, a KRTA member. “Throughout the year, members also donate money to the Teacher Grant Program and the Scholarship Program in memory of, or in honor of, someone. Over the years, many members have bequeathed large amounts to the Scholarship Program, which has been invested and generates money for our scholarships each year.”
While education is their primary focus, the group’s contributions to the communities they serve go far beyond that.
Every December, they donate 32 hours of volunteer time to the Salvation Army, ringing bells to raise funds for the organization. Last year, they collected almost $4,000 in donations, according to Ramona Gia, the group’s current secretary. A retired elementary school teacher, Gia and her husband, Gil, also a retired educator, are active members of KRTA.
Their monthly meetings draw an average of 100 attendees who contribute to the group’s collection of items such as toiletries, books and magazines for local nonprofits, including men’s and women’s shelters. They also collect manufacturer’s coupons for the families of armed service members, to help offset their expenses, and pop tops from cans to benefit the Ronald McDonald House.
Their latest project is collecting nonperishable food for the food pantries at Bakersfield College and CSU Bakersfield, which benefit their student populations. And the list goes on.
Members volunteer in classrooms, serve on school boards and keep up with current educational issues.
“We are a group of people very concerned with education issues,” said Ramona. “We keep in close touch with legislatures, (and if there are) any threats, we speak up.”
With a membership of 50,000 statewide, they have a substantial influence and even attend advocacy days in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, meeting with the congress members who represent them.
Recently Dr. James Mahoney, former Kern division president, was elected as the state president, which is a first for Kern County.
Fierce advocates for the rights of retired teachers, as well as education and schools, this group is anything but retired. ￼