School volunteer, foundation head recognized for efforts

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJuly 23, 2012 

Jan Davis-Vater gets things done, her peers say. That's why she's been entrusted with so many responsibilities as a volunteer at Hilton Head Island schools through the years.

"She's always there, you can always count on her," Hilton Head Island High School principal Amanda O'Nan said. "You don't have to look over her shoulder; she gets it done."

The S.C. Board of Education recently gave Davis-Vater an honorable mention during its 2012 Volunteer Awards.

Davis-Vater, who has volunteered in schools for more than a decade, said she was "floored" to even be nominated for the award.

She was chairwoman of the Foundation for Educational Excellence for two years. The organization presents small grants to teachers for classroom projects twice each school year. Davis-Vater said the foundation has given about $25,000 to 75 teachers since 2009.

Carol McMillian, Beaufort County school district's community service coordinator, said Davis-Vater's work on the foundation has taken it from a fledgling organization to a big supporter of teachers and the schools.

"She takes her job as a volunteer very seriously," McMillian said. "In fact, she treats it like it's a job."

She began as a "room mom" when her son, Tommy Vater, entered the first grade at Hilton Head Island Elementary.

Over the years, Davis-Vater has headed parent-teacher organizations and school improvement councils. When she was the head of the PTA at Hilton Head Island Middle School, she organized a cookie dough fundraiser that raised more than $43,000 for the school -- and it was one of the top cookie dough fundraisers in the country.

When Tommy enrolled at Hilton Head High, she helped start the "Spectacular Seahawks" program, which recognizes students who display one of 10 International Baccalaureate traits -- such as being a thinker, caring or open-minded.

Each month, Davis-Vater gets pictures of the recipients and arranges them on the school's bulletin board. She also prepares the students' certificates.

"It's cool when the kids come by (the bulletin board) and find their picture," she said.

O'Nan said Davis-Vater is sometimes at the school so often that it seems she's a full-time employee. It's almost all "behind-the-scenes work to make things go well," O'Nan said.

Davis-Vater estimates she's spent more than 4,300 hours in the past two years on work with the Foundation for Educational Excellence alone. And she doesn't plan to slow down even after her son graduates.

"My work with education for all children has become such a passion," she said. "I cannot imagine my days without it."

Related content:

Jewels and Jeans fundraiser helps pay for teachers' tools; Feb. 20, 2012

Education foundation receives $15,000 grant; Nov. 19, 2011

Beaufort County teachers surprised with grants for classroom projects; Oct. 19, 2011

Hilton Head Island Middle School rolls out cookie-dough sales success; Oct. 16, 2008

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