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Interview with Susan M. Deans, October 29, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Susan M. Deans, October 29, 2006
October 29, 2006
Here, Susan Deans discusses her volunteerism in the school system and through her church.
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Interviewee: Deans, Susan Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 10/29/2006 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 60 minutes

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I'm a staff member with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 29th of October in the year 2006 and we're in Whiteville, North Carolina. This is part of the special collections unit of Randall Library and we are interviewing, for archival purposes, volunteers. Our interviewee today is Susan Deans. Hi Susan, how are you?

Deans: Fine.

Zarbock: Have you had a good day so far?

Deans: Sure have. I've had a great day.

Zarbock: Susan, tell me a little bit about your background. Where do you come from, where did you go to school, tell me a little about your parents. You're married and you've got a couple of children. So just run me through a background of Susan Deans.

Deans: Whiteville is my hometown. It is also the hometown of both my parents, and both my parents are still living, and they live here in Whiteville, as do I and my husband and our two boys. Our boys, Timothy and Drake, are 13 and 17. Actually, he'll be 13 next week, but he likes me to say he's 13 already. So, he is...

Zarbock: A mature 13.

Deans: Right. He is 12 and about 51 weeks. And Drake is 17. They're in 7th and 12th grades here in Whiteville. I've lived here pretty much my entire life. After my husband John and I were married we lived in Virginia for a couple of years and then moved to Wilmington, where I attended college at UNCW, and lived there a couple of years and then migrated back to Whiteville where we're been ever since.

Zarbock: You work out of the house Susan?

Deans: I do.

Zarbock: What do you do?

Deans: I'm currently working for a special project called Partnerships for Inclusion. It's part of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute of UNC Chapel Hill, and my title is Inclusion Specialist.

Zarbock: I'm sorry, it's what?

Deans: Inclusion Specialist. Basically what I do is provide training and on site consultation and technical assistance for any program or agency that serves young children who have disabilities between the ages of birth and 5 years. And they're generally programs that are state agencies or receive some kind of funding through state agencies because our project is funded through grants from a couple of different state agencies. So we tend to-- our clientele tends to be programs who are also either licensed or monitored through those same agencies. For example, the Division of Child Development or Department of Health and Human Services Early Intervention branch. Programs like that.

Zarbock: And your husband, what does he do?

Deans: He is a forester, in Land Management.

Zarbock: A State Forester?

Deans: No, he works for a private company called Corbett Timber Company, which is based in Wilmington. And he's been there about 20 years.

Zarbock: What did your parents do? What kind of work did Dad do?

Deans: My father is a retailer. He's been in business a long time with various types of electronics. He has a Radio Shack franchise and also dabbles in the internet. He was the first internet service provider in Columbus county, and now he is bringing wireless internet here which is a big deal. So he's in the process of getting that off the ground. My mom is a registered nurse and is actually Dean of the Allied Health program at the Community College here.

Zarbock: Well our interview focus is on volunteerism. Give me a catalog. Where do you volunteer?

Deans: Well I do a lot of volunteer work through my church with different-- just a variety of different places, you know, wherever needs are. Sometimes it might be organizing an outreach project, for example, collecting items for a Hispanic farm workers ministry, things to be delivered there, right now we're working though the church on this operation Christmas Child, collecting items to be mailed to children overseas for Christmas, food pantry at church, just a variety of different things through the church. And then I also have spent a lot of time over the past, I guess, well it's 13 years now, volunteering in a lot of different capacities through the school system. Either as a classroom volunteer in my children's classrooms, maybe tutoring or reading with a child or helping them with math, just whatever different teachers have asked me to do. Right now I'm having an interesting experience volunteering at the high school in the office on Friday mornings. Just like being an extra clerical person. Fridays...

Zarbock: What makes it interesting?

Deans: Well you get to know a lot of the kids that you might otherwise wouldn't get to meet, because they're in and out of the office for different things. You get to know the teachers and administrators in a different way than you might ordinarily would interact with them, and you also get to know more of them.

Zarbock: Susan, I should have asked earlier, what's your degree? You said from UNCW?

Deans: Yes.

Zarbock: Was it in education?

Deans: Special education. I was licensed and certified to teach school and taught in Virginia and then also here in Whiteville for about 10 years. And then I took four years off with my family, took four years of family leave. And then I went back to work, but not as a classroom teacher, but at the community college as a part time instructor, and also coordinating a Smart Start project for the North Carolina Partnership for Children. And what that project entailed was going into local chapter programs, or daycare centers is what they're commonly called, and providing technical assistance and helping improve the quality of the environment and so on and so forth. And from there I took this current position. So I've been in education for a little over 20 years but in a couple of different roles.

Zarbock: What motivated you to do all this volunteering? You've got a husband, and obligations there as a wife. You've got two children, and obligations there as a mother. You're working full time?

Deans: I do.

Zarbock: Okay. And you've got parents who are, like many of us, every day you get a little bit older. So you've got all sorts of things on your plate and yet you do these other things. What motivates you to do that?

Deans: You know, I don't know. I think-- I can remember when you told me we were going to have this interview, I thought you'd probably ask me that. The earliest recollection that I have of being a volunteer is tutoring a child who was in my 5th grade classroom. And he, back then, you know, there weren't special education programs. There weren't resource rooms. There were just kids in the classroom that just needed extra help. And I remember working with a little girl in my 5th grade classroom, and that's my earliest memory of any volunteer work, and going to my 5th grade teacher and saying, well let me try to help her. Let me work with her. So I guess it started then. The other thing probably is I've always been really involved with my children and the things that they're part of and wanting maybe to make places where they spend time better places. I've spent a lot of years working with cub scout programs and I've recently retired from cub scouting. Both of my boys are now boy scouts and my husband is their scout master. So I've kind of retired from scouting and let him picked up that.

Zarbock: So your husband's also doing some volunteer work.

Deans: He is a scout master.

Zarbock: Is it fun to volunteer?

Deans: I think it can be fun. It's rewarding. It can be frustrating.

Zarbock: What would make it frustrating?

Deans: Well I think sometimes when you are maybe part of a project, for example, and that project doesn't have the resources that it needs to do some of the things that you'd like to be able to do, so maybe they have to ___________ and settle for less, or maybe their hands are tied. Most of the time it seems like because of fiscal issues, but not always, and so, you know, there's all these wonderful things that could be happening if more resources were available.

Zarbock: But you have compromised some?

Deans: Well right, and it's not to say that it's not equally rewarding. I mean it is frustrating sometimes because you think we could be doing more or that could be better. But it's still a good thing. I mean it's still better than it would've been if you weren't there. So I guess-- does that make sense?

Zarbock: Susan, an event took place in my life in a conversation and I'd like you to reflect on this. An associate of mine, this is a couple of years ago, we were talking about volunteers and he really became very angry and said, there's no need for people to volunteer. If there's a task to be done, then somebody ought to pay the person to accomplish the task. Have you ever heard criticism of that nature? Have you ever received criticism?

Deans: I haven't had it worded quite like that but I think sometimes people-- it's easy to assume that maybe the resources are available for things like that. And having been an educator for a long time and having done a lot of volunteer work in the schools, I've seen firsthand all the wonderful things that are available and all the wonderful things that should be available but aren't. And so if it weren't for volunteers stepping up to the plate and providing some of those other things, we'd be doing without a lot. For example, in our community I've worked with a program called Communities in Schools, and I'm on their board of directors. And I've done a lot of tutoring, you know, in the primary school, with children who are having difficulty, you know, learning to read. And they just need someone to sit with them and help them basically practice their reading skills, you know. If we didn't have folks out there doing that it would be really difficult for a teacher to find the time to give a child that one on one instruction when she has, you know, 22 or 3 other kids in a classroom.

Zarbock: Let me chase you down that conversational corridor for just a minute before I come back. Why do children have difficulty reading?

Deans: You know, I think there's just a multitude of reasons. Everything from biological factors that could include vision, that could include a learning disability, that could include a lack of sleep, poor nutrition. I mean there are a variety of just biological issues. And then environment. Many children come to school and have had a long exposure to print materials from a very, very early age. But many other children have never seen a book, never held a book, have had no experience with any kind of literature at all. And so they're starting out behind, basically. Also, I think not all children have the luxury of having a parent that will read with them at home, and so-- particularly when kids are just beginning to learn the skill of reading. Repetition, practice, is what they need, and if they don't have somebody at home who will do that with them, then they're gonna be behind. Sometimes. Not all kids, but sometimes.

Zarbock: What was your experience as a child reading? Did your parents read to you?

Deans: My mom's a very avid reader. And yes, I remember being read to as a child. And I remember my parents encouraging me to read. And I'd go through stages in my life where I would enjoy it and then other stages where, you know, I would just be too busy. But now I enjoy it.

Zarbock: Did Mom and Dad do any volunteering?

Deans: My mother is very active in the community.

Zarbock: What does she do?

Deans: Well, she's a member of the Columbus County Board of Health I think it is. She's Daughters of the American Revolution. She's in an educational sorority, Alpha Delta Kappa I think it is. Church work, lots of different things like that. My dad is-- I don't know that you'd call him a volunteer so much as he's a member of city council and he's active in his community in a lot of ways.

Zarbock: That's a slippery definition, volunteerism versus active in your community. You can be active in your community and be a sort of a volunteer, or you can be a volunteer and sort of an activist in the community. I mean it's such a porous thing. I'd prefer to not separate, but say if you're involved in the community you are, for my definition, my purposes, a volunteer. Are the boys doing any volunteerism?

Deans: Well, you know, I think that's an interesting question. I hadn't thought about it before. I think they do, through their scout work, a lot of community service. I don't know that they would define it or think of it in that way because they're kids. But I hope that we're instilling those values so that they will give back when they're older. But right now, they're just involved in a lot of community service, through scouting, primarily, and through our church.

Zarbock: And again, it's a matter of definition. If I was a boy scout and I was involved in some sort of community project, I wouldn't think of myself as a volunteer, I'd think of myself as a boy scout who was doing a project.

Deans: Right, but they do many things in the community, you know, food drives, and right now my son is working on his eagle project so he's getting ready to do quite a bit of community service through that. So I think they're learning those skills.

Zarbock: One of the helpful things in an interview of this nature is tell me a story about one of the best thing and/or worst thing, or the biggest surprise, or the dumbest thing you've ever done, or the smartest thing you've ever done, or any of those categories.

Deans: Oh gosh, I have to think about that. The best thing or the worst thing?

Zarbock: Any of those.

Deans: Related to volunteerism.

Zarbock: Yeah.

Deans: Hm. Oh gosh. I have to think about that. Well I will share this with you, and it's related to scouting because I have spent a lot of time over the past 12 years with scouting. Well maybe not over the past-- well, yeah, 12 years, because my son joined scouts when he was in the first grade and he's a senior in high school this year. So another mom and I, we formed this den of boys, and they're all now getting ready to graduate and...

Zarbock: Graduate from?

Deans: From high school.

Zarbock: From high school.

Deans: And several of them have recently become Eagle scouts, so it was really fun to see them grow up through the ranks of cub scouting. And then of course we handed them over to the men, who are the scout masters. And so we've just kind of been watching them mature and grow into really wonderful young men and, you know, achieve that honor. And that's been rewarding to see that maybe we laid the groundwork for that. And hopefully our own son will be doing that in the spring, so that'll be good. As far as other things, I mean I think just knowing that you contributed and that you can see the fruits of your labor, you know. There are so many things I don't know that I could really think of one that is outshining or outstanding above all the others.

Zarbock: You and I were chatting off camera that one of the motives behind this series of taped interviews on volunteerism is what seems to be a sea change that is taking place in volunteerism. According to the research that's been done, a younger generation, and I'm not too sure how to define that, but let's say under 25, that if you're volunteering, what you're looking for is a project. And people bring a lot of skills into a project, accomplish it, and say, there, done, and goodbye. As opposed to, for example, my wife's generation, where you became a volunteer and this was sort of a lifetime commitment. It wasn't thought of in terms of projects. It was thought of in terms of duty and obligation. How do those remarks fit with your observation and experience?

Deans: Well I think...

Zarbock: In your workaday world, do you do any recruiting of volunteers?

Deans: Not really. Other than, for example, I serve on the board of the Southeastern Family Support Network, and when our, you know, board, for whatever reason, you know, when membership is low we have to seek new membership on that board, so that kind of thing, that kind of scenario. Of course when you organize a project you're recruiting people to work on that project, so I guess in that way, I do that kind of recruiting. But I haven't done, for example, like on the level that I know that Miss Carolyn does when, you know, when you're recruiting volunteers to sign on maybe for a long term thing. And then in scouting, you know, we were always recruiting parents to come and be leaders. So that's another example. So I guess I've done some recruiting, come to think of it, but I don't think of myself as a recruiter.

Zarbock: Again, it's the definition. You may be doing it, but you're doing it for...

Deans: Encouraging, or inviting people to participate, maybe, is what I think of it.

Zarbock: Susan, one of the areas I'd like to probe a little bit is how does it feel when you volunteer? You're a volunteer and you've done it or you're doing it or you're involved in it or it's accomplished. What does that make Susan feel like?

Deans: Well I think there is a sense of accomplishment, when you can do a job and you feel like others have benefited from it or you've helped somebody somewhere. I've always kind of felt like I've had many blessings in my life, many opportunities, and I've just always felt some sense of maybe moral obligation to give something back. And not necessarily to people that are less fortunate, but just to others in general. And also to those, you know, who are less fortunate. But I can't say that the volunteer work that I've done I've necessarily sought out people who, you know, were of a different socio-economic class or-- it's just whatever needed to be done in the community to help others, I would be willing to do to help with. Most of my volunteer work has really been around doing things for kids, for children. Maybe because my own kids have kind of gotten me involved, but then also, I guess being an educator that was just a natural progression for me, to be involved with the youth in different ways.

Zarbock: So you really like to give people a boost up.

Deans: I do. Or maybe to help provide things for, you know, for the community, or programs to help groups of people, you know, and then sometimes also, you know, for individuals, you know. If there's a family that I know who's in need of something, you know, we might provide that for them. My husband and children and I have done a lot of that. We've provided Christmas for other families or groceries for other families and, you know, we like to, you know, drive by and leave it for them and drive off real quick so they don't know where it came from. Play Santa Claus I guess. Just whatever needs to be done.

Zarbock: In a previous interview the interviewees were saying, we're not into this to get a plaque or a certificate suitable for framing. We've got a whole bunch of those and they're in the drawer. Has this been your experience?

Deans: Yeah, I have some plaques and certificates but I don't have them displayed. There's an intrinsic, you know, reward or value to doing something that's of service or to help other people. I don't do-- it's nice to be recognized, but to do the things that I do, I don't do for recognition, you know. It's nice to be recognized in that not so much that you are being recognized, but that the work that you did is being acknowledged and appreciated.

Zarbock: And that may be the motive behind the person that gives the plaque.

Deans: Maybe, maybe so.

Zarbock: We appreciate what you were doing. One of the things that volunteers have done, characteristically in the United States, have been sort of pioneers. They pointed out difficulties in the social order that perhaps governmental programs or the community at large didn't realize, my gosh, I didn't know. Migrant workers, for example. What has been your experience with-- - somebody 50 years from now may see this tape and we're talking about migrant workers. It's gonna be an entirely different world 50 years from now. What are we talking about with migrant workers in Columbus County?

Deans: Well now I haven't had a lot of experience with migrant workers in our country, per se, other than some of the tutoring that I did in the schools was with Hispanic children. The work that we've done for migrant workers through our church was actually for the Episcopal Farm Workers Ministry, which is up at Newton Grove, and they have a wonderful facility there. They have a church and they have other services that are housed there at that facility that provide help and assistance to those workers. But what we do is we collect food and clothing, bedding, just a variety of things, and deliver it there, and then they actually disperse it to their clients there. But helping that population, to me, just seems like the least we can do, you know. And there are a lot of people that tend to be really narrow minded about those folks being in our community. And I hear comments like, well, you know, they came here and they're taking our jobs, or they need to learn to speak our language, and-- but the bottom line is they're doing jobs that people here aren't willing to do. And so I think that, you know, we do owe them a certain level of respect, you know. And that's not to say they don't, you know, that they don't need to maybe acclimate to our culture somewhat as well. But I do think that they are deserving of a certain level of respect and they are very impoverished, and so anything that we can do to help them-- because ultimately, they are helping us through the work that they do. Especially in agriculture and things like that.

Zarbock: The issue of migrant workers is a very hot political topic in October in the year 2006. What will become of that in the future, of course, is anybody's guess. But in cases like that, I would also think that there would be perhaps a punishing attitude on the part of some, why are you doing that?

Deans: I mean I do think you hear that. But I usually just try to say, you know, well-- it's really-- I mean it's just not a big deal for me to do it. It's not difficult. It's not overly taxing. It doesn't cost me a lot of money. It doesn't take, you know, a lot of time. So my thing would be why not, you know, or why shouldn't I?

Zarbock: But you also entered into a different thought there. What would be a situation in which you would say, no, I'm not going to volunteer on that?

Deans: Gosh. I don't know. I guess maybe if-- I can't imagine that this would happen, but I guess if someone asked me to participate in something that either morally or ethically I didn't believe in, then I would probably say no. Well, I mean, I know I would say no. But that hasn't happened to me. There have been times when I've had to say no only because of time constraints, you know. If I was already working on another project or activity and I just didn't physically have enough hours in the day, I've had to say no. But for the most part I usually try to-- when folks ask me to do something, if there's any way possible, I usually try to get it done for them, you know, just depending on what the request is and what kind of time I have. I don't say no probably as often as I should, but I'm learning.

Zarbock: Since they'll see this videotape and may see it for years to come, is there something you'd like to say to your children at this time?

Deans: Wow. Hadn't thought about that. What would I like to say? Well I guess probably that it's just very important to be very conscientious about the choices that you make and the way you live your life, and that you try to live your life in a way that makes a difference to other people and in your community. And that I would hope that they would learn to do that themselves. Just to live the footprint that's a good footprint.

Zarbock: Thank you Susan. I've enjoyed it.

Deans: Thank you.

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