A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Impact of One: Jack-of-all trades volunteer Keith having an impact at Millcreek Elementary

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

As a newlywed, Mark Keith started hanging around after school to spend more time with his dedicated bride, who works long hours at The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary.

Fast-forward about 10 years, and Keith is still a fixture there – volunteering several hours a week in numerous programs that he has launched and fostered because he cares about the students.

“It’s the family and a passion for those kids – passing on the experiences in my life,” he explained.

One of Keith’s latest ventures is leading a Tuesday afternoon guitar class, which wife Dawn coordinated through a grant for Millcreek’s 21st Century Community Learning Center. He teaches students the basics such as how to tune the instrument and play simple chords.

Mark Keith, shown teaching a guitar class at Millcreek Elementary, recently received a Golden Apple Award for service (Photo Provided)

“It’s opening a window for them. I’m not going to build Eddie Van Halen in eight weeks, but maybe one of those kids will find their passion and the thing they love,” Keith said.

A couple of the youngsters have bought their own guitars, and the group is gaining confidence overall.

“When the light comes on, that’s really empowering,” Keith said.

Fifth-grader Caden Thacker, who is in his second year of guitar class, said Keith’s support means a lot to the school.

“He’s always there – whether guitar or anything. He’ll do it,” Caden said. “He’s kind and always helping.”

Self-employed in construction, Keith can arrange his work schedule around his commitments at Millcreek. In one of his early initiatives, he recruited male role models to volunteer everywhere from the classroom to the lunchroom.

“It’s a way for the dads to connect to their kid’s life. It really has a positive impact,” said Keith, whose own children have since moved on to Southern Middle and Lafayette High schools.

In the sports arena, Keith has developed a co-ed Saturday basketball league where “everybody gets to play” and organized a summer volleyball camp to prepare Millcreek girls for middle school tryouts. Outdoors, he helped science classes with the stream restoration project a few years ago and advises the school’s garden club.

“I get some kids to use the tiller to plow, and it’s so exciting for them. It shows them they can raise their own tomatoes,” he said.

As an Air Force veteran and National Guard member, Keith said one of his favorite projects was a Veterans Day event where he introduced an array of service members from World War II to the present, which gave students a real-life connection to the holiday.

Principal Greg Ross appreciates Keith’s heart and his contributions.

“Several programs couldn’t happen without him. The sacrifice he’s willing to make for the school benefits hundreds of kids,” Ross said. “It goes to show the impact that volunteers can have. It’s pretty powerful – the impact of one person.”

Fayette County Public Schools has also recognized the value of Keith’s initiative and recently presented him with a Golden Apple Award for outstanding service to Millcreek. Ever humble, Keith simply encourages others to join him in lending a hand.

“We need more volunteers to get involved. Just show up. Your kids want you here,” he said. “They don’t care if you don’t know everything. They just want to know you care.”

Five high-performing community partners received Golden Apple Awards for their efforts in 2016-17, and they continue to invest quality time, energy, and expertise through committed programs that benefit Fayette County and its schools.

Mark Keith – individual award recipient; school partner with The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd – faith-based organizations; school partner with Booker T. Washington Elementary
Rotary Club of Lexington – community organizations/nonprofits; school partner with Booker T. Washington Elementary
Tates Creek Christian Church – faith-based organizations; school partner with Julius Marks Elementary
Community Action Council – community organizations/nonprofits category; district partner

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools

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