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Outreach program gives Duke retirees opportunity to give back to community

<p>Volunteers from Duke University Retiree Outreach help manage the school garden at&nbsp;Lakewood Elementary, a Title I school in Durham.</p>

Volunteers from Duke University Retiree Outreach help manage the school garden at Lakewood Elementary, a Title I school in Durham.

For some Duke community members, the end of their official Duke employment is only the beginning of their service efforts.  

Duke University Retiree Outreach has been bringing together Duke retirees to give back to the local community for the past 20 years. Since the organization's inception, it has worked with several different organizations in Durham, including previous programs with Busy Street, a hands-on non-profit museum for young children, and Preiss-Steele Place, a low-income housing project. 

DURO was founded by Bill Griffith, Trinity ’50 and former vice president of student affairs, and George Maddox, former professor of sociology. Nan Keohane, former Duke president, and John Burness, visiting professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, also played pivotal roles in starting the organization. 

Most recently, DURO has focused on its partnership with Lakewood Elementary, a Title I school in Durham. DURO volunteers have provided services to Lakewood ranging from tutoring students to managing the school’s garden.

Margaret Hodel, a retired professor of mathematics at Duke, and Connie Winstead, a retired data technician at Duke’s Chronic Pain Clinic, currently serve as co-chairs of the 140-member organization. Together with the Duke Alumni Association, The Forest at Duke—a continuing care retirement community—and the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, DURO has been able to provide numerous opportunities to Lakewood students that would not have existed otherwise.

“This is where hundreds of volunteers have created a garden, beautified the grounds, provided opportunities for exercise, fed needy families, tutored, taught enrichment classes, bought books for students, contributed financially and helped out in many other ways,” wrote Hodel in a speech she delivered at DURO’s 20th anniversary celebration this past May.

One of the initiatives that DURO has launched at Lakewood is a backpack meals program, which sends home weekend meals for 25 students and their families each Friday. DURO hopes to expand this program, Winstead explained.

“We are working on setting up an emergency food pantry for families who find themselves in predicaments where they have [an urgent need] for food,” she said.

DURO also provides assistance to teachers in Lakewood classrooms, organizes book drives through the school’s library and helps with school beautification.

“They are the best volunteers I could ask for,” said Deborah Darwin, media coordinator and librarian at Lakewood. “They make the magic happen for our kids. Whatever we need, they do."

For most major school events and projects, DURO volunteers are present to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This has included volunteering at field days, book fairs and garden workdays.

“If there is a need identified at the school, DURO tries to help out in any way we can,” Winstead said.

DURO volunteers have also been supported in a number of capacities by Duke students. The Duke, Durham and Beyond faculty outing program for incoming freshmen, DukeEngage, Duke International House and the Thompson Writing Program have all brought groups of Duke students to work at the Lakewood Garden.

For the staff members at Duke whose children attend or once attended Lakewood, DURO has provided an outlet to give back. 

“We all feel very connected to Lakewood,” Winstead said. “It’s a wonderful school and we love the staff there. They make us feel like a part of the school, and we feel like it’s our school in a lot of ways.”

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