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Tigard chamber names Jay Leet as Volunteer of the Year

The longtime teacher stays involved with kids through reading programs and other activities
by: Jonathan House, VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR — Every Wednesday, Jay Leet travels from Tigard to Oak Grove Elementary School in Milwaukie, where his wife Sally is the principal, to read to kids. Leet’s many community-service projects led the Tigard chamber to name him its 2007 Volunteer of the Year.

TIGARD - Jay Leet is so busy volunteering that he can only list all his activities if he goes through his weekly schedule day by day.

However, he is making time for the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce's annual 'Evening of Shining Stars' banquet/auction Friday when he will be honored as the Volunteer of the Year.

Good Neighbor Center Executive Director Sydney Sherwood nominated Leet for his 10 years of volunteering at the homeless shelter and bringing high school students to cook dinner once a month plus for his work as a Meals-on-Wheels driver.

Leet's week starts on Monday, when he goes to C.F. Tigard Elementary to read with four different boys. Then he heads over to the Tigard Senior Center, usually with some Tigard High School students on a break from study hall in tow to make his Meals-on-Wheels run, delivering lunch to homebound seniors.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Leet works on reading with THS students from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

On Wednesday, Leet leaves the Tigard-Tualatin School District and goes to Milwaukie, where his wife Sally is the principal at Oak Grove Elementary in the North Clackamas School District.

'I read with kids in half-hour segments,' he said. 'Some are in the SMART program, some of it is computer work, and some is prescriptive reading.'

On the fourth Thursday of each month, Leet and members of the THS Key Club purchase food and go to the Good Neighbor Center to cook dinner for the formerly homeless residents. 'It's fun,' he said.

On Friday, Leet returns to C.F. Tigard Elementary for more reading sessions.

'One of my main motivations is the Oregon Chalkboard Project, which is a great resource for anyone looking for ways to volunteer,' he said. 'A half-hour a week of reading with a kid makes a big difference, and you just fall in love with the kid.'

Once a month Leet drives a van for Calvin Presbyterian Church to pick up people in Summerfield and King City who can't get to church on their own.

The Leets also do a Portland Meals-on-Wheels route one Sunday a month, and there's the occasional tree planting and other activities that round out the spectrum of his volunteering.

Leet has spent his career in the Tigard-Tualatin School District after 'moving West my whole life,' he said.

He grew up in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York before earning a bachelor's degree in English at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jay and Sally Leet moved to Tigard in 1974, moved to Portland for two years and then came back to Tigard, where they have lived in the same house for 27 years.

Leet earned a master's degree in teaching at Lewis and Clark College, and his first job in the school district was teaching English half time at Fowler Junior High School when it opened. The other half of his job was spent in the central office on staff development.

Leet retired in 2004, but that didn't end his desire to work with kids, and his volunteer jobs keep him right in the thick of teaching.

'I feel strongly about involving kids in service,' Leet said. 'A fun activity we've done every year is to take a bus load of kids to help at the Special Olympics state bowling tournament. This year we took 30 kids in the Key Club - they were in charge of the lanes and making sure things went OK.

'Another fun one for the past four years is hanging Christmas lights for seniors. The seniors love it, and it's easy for the kids. They feel pretty useful. I used to be in charge of the THS environmental club (Students for Environmental Action), and we did some beach clean-ups. Pacific City even invited us back to plant sea grass to help stop beach erosion. It was very fun. The kids had the best time.'

While teaching, Leet was able to involve his students in projects because 'it was easy - I saw them every day.'

However, 'now I have to call and remind them,' he said. 'I'm busy all the time right now. I really enjoy community service. People give teens a lot of bad raps - there's lots of negative news about them. I think every student I've had wants to do good. And I think a requirement to graduate should be community service.

'I couldn't require kids to do community service, but in the last few years of my career, I tried to give them lots of chances. I had waiting lists for kids who wanted to do projects. When they did get exposed to it, it was a positive experience, and they wanted to do it again.'

On the other hand, volunteering at different grade levels has broadened Leet's horizons.

'As a high school teacher, I could never see why someone would want to work with young kids,' he said. 'Now I can understand their enthusiasm. It's just fabulous.

'Programs like SMART are so simple. You just read and help them enjoy it. The training is a half-hour. There are so many kids with one parent who works hard just to provide the basics and just doesn't have time for reading.'

As for being given the chamber's Volunteerism From the Heart Award in honor of Jim Hartman, Leet said, 'I feel guilty for being given an award for doing something I enjoy. I also feel guilty because there's so many people in the community to shine that light on. I'll accept the award but only on behalf of all those who do community service.'

The Leets are moving to Metzger soon and have three grown sons, Patrick, Brian and Jamie.