Surprise Squad honors special Springfield charter school volunteer

In this month’s edition, we are recognizing an educator who volunteers her time to help underserved youth.
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2022 at 5:34 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad is in full swing and in this month’s edition, we are recognizing an educator who volunteers her time to help underserved youth.

We are headed over to Phoenix Charter Academy in Springfield to surprise Nana Shirley. She has been a volunteer there since 2017 and Nana Shirley is a young 85 years old

Once we arrived, it was nothing but high praise for Nana Shirley.

“Anything we ask her to do, she is always willing to do it. Sometimes we will say, ‘Nana, we will take care of it.’ She says, ‘No Mr. Johnson, it’s alright.’ It’s a great relief for all of us, in all honesty,” said Phoenix Charter Academy Head of School Calvin Johnson.

Phoenix Charter Academy in Springfield serves over 500 underserved students. Nana Shirley volunteers as a foster grandparent through the Urban League of Springfield and while she has a variety of responsibilities, Phoenix Charter Academy Director of School Culture Larissa Thornton said she does it all.

“She always willing to put a hand in. Things people don’t normally do. Toilet breaks, she is there cleaning up. Her position is always student-centered. I could say she is part of the ops team, but really, she really is the entire school. She embodies what Phoenix is,” Thornton explained.

Because of her hard work and dedication, the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad wanted to give her a surprise she would never forget.

“We are here at the Phoenix Charter Academy to celebrate somebody very special,” said Gary Rome, president of Gary Rome Hyundai.

“We are all waiting for Nana Shirley to show up, so we can surprise her today,” added Brian Houser, general manager of Balise Hyundai.

“We are all here for Nana Shirley and she deserves this surprise big time,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of Country Hyundai.

[Reporter: We are here to celebrate you today and the work that you do for the students. How are you feeling right now?]

“I’m excited and I’m happy,” said Nana Shirley

“On behalf of the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealerships, we want give you this check for your school in your name. For everything you’re doing, we want to thank you so much,” Houser said.

“The check for $500 in Nana Shirley’s name for the school and the $500 to spoil yourselves,” Cosenzi added.

“You can spend it on yourself, whether it be gardening, for whatever you need,” Rome explained.

Her bosses were in on the surprise and decided to take her out, but in typical Nana Shirley fashion, her priorities never wavered.

“While we were out, I said we got to get back to work. They are going to be looking for us…I said something is going on here and this is it,” Shirley

Nana Shirley’s granddaughter, Kaitlin Griffith, said she admires her grandmother.

“She’s amazing, kindhearted, loving,” Griffith said.

Nana Shirley prides herself on sharing her wisdom with the students.

“They (students) are always willing to listen to me and I try to give them good advice to steer them in the right direction…I have a good rapport and get along with the teachers. I am willing to do anything I am asked to do and I always do a good job,” Shirley explained.

[Reporter: Why do you think she does it? Why do you think she volunteers her time?]

“Of course, it’s because she loves us. She is a caring person and has the biggest heart in the school. She’s never fully appreciated for all the work that she does, so I think the kids the staff and the community here at Phoenix is her motivation and she is a big part of the community,” Thornton said.