Volunteer on the move with the Carnegie's outreach program
Pat Laemmle is convinced she has the best job in the world.
As one of the ambassadors of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's traveling Museum on the Move, the Delmont resident is finding immense satisfaction presenting programs, based on the museum's internationally acclaimed collections, to young people and adults.
For more than 30 years, the Carnegie, thanks to volunteers and part-time staff like Laemmle, has offered this outreach to schools, libraries, hospitals, residential treatment centers, scouts, senior citizens and others.
“We excel at science learning, and that is what we share with kids (and others) who often can't come, or for whom it is difficult to come to the museum at this point in their lives,” says Lenore Adler, program specialist at the museum.
Presenters bring materials from the Carnegie to engage their audience on subjects such as Egypt, dinosaurs and dragons, frogs, turtles, amphibians, reptiles, Pennsylvania mammals, Native Americans, wet lands, biodiversity, Africa, whales, rocks and horses, and other topics.
Laemmle, 68, has been with the museum since 2000. She says she likes all topics and enjoys sharing her love of learning. “I hope I bring a bit of knowledge to these groups, along with questions that will make them want to learn more,” she says.
She does it so well that Laemmle receives fan mail from her students, Adler says.
“She's a model person, very giving, unselfish, I want to clone her,” Adler says. “Pat is a natural-born teacher and loves children. Plus, she is adventurous. What a great combination for outreach.”
Fox Hill Preschool, a community ministry of Faith United Methodist Church, Fox Chapel, has been hosting Carnegie's traveling classes for at least 10 years.
“We always ask that Pat be our presenter. Her depth of knowledge and pleasant attitude create a wonderful learning experience for the preschool children as well as for the teachers,” director Sharon Saltzman says .
“She brings a variety of real items for the children to see and touch. The hands-on items and opportunities to ask questions make the presentations come alive for them,” Saltzman says. “She has a good sense of humor and is very patient. Pat understands the needs of the children.”
Laemmle has a lot of experience with children.
She has two sons, a daughter and seven grandchildren. “I also have a grandson, 26, and a granddaughter, 24, who adopted me when they were in grade school because they had no grandparents,” she says.
When her first child entered kindergarten, Laemmle began volunteering at Mother of Sorrows School, Murrysville.
For 10 years, she worked full-time, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, volunteering her time — as school secretary, Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science coordinator and in the cafeteria and library. She ran the book fair, bought the books and organized incentive reading programs. She also held talent shows for the children.
At her son's school at Franklin Regional, she assisted in office work, the library and served on the parent advisory council. She also volunteered at Murrysville Public Library in the children's section, helping develop materials for the summer reading program, and designing reading folders for Westmoreland County libraries.
She donates her time for the Boy Scout Learning for Life sessions in the parks, trains leaders for the Girl Scouts, of which she is a lifetime member, and has had various volunteer positions through the years at St. John de la Salle Church, Delmont, including youth-group advisor.
For more than the past 15 years, she has been vice president of the Delmont Apple and Arts Festival, an effort that turns many thousands of dollars back into the Delmont community for the fire department, food bank, library, youth groups and sports, and the Salvation Army.
“On a nice day, we have as many as 5,000 visitors. The last few years, we've made $10,000 a year. My greatest pleasure is to stand on the top of the hill and see all the people coming and going,” she says.
The day her volunteer position ended at Mother of Sorrows, she drove to the Carnegie Museum to volunteer, leading to her paid part-time work there.
“I started to become very busy. It was fantastic learning new things and getting to share that knowledge with kids,” Laemmle says.
“It's important to take these programs out to the public so they can become aware of how many interesting things are in this bright, beautiful world to look at, study and attempt to understand,” she says. “It is not simply taking the museum to them, but encouraging those that can to come to the museum. In some cases, eye contact with a child or a smile is enough to count it as a success for me.”
A lot of her outreach programs for Museum on the Move are for special-needs schools like Sunrise in Monroeville. “I hope it brings a little pleasure in their day,” she says.
Laemmle tries to greet each child in the special-needs classes with a high-five or pat on the shoulder, taking joy in their responses “and seeing their eyes light up when they ‘get' something.”
Her goal is to make whatever subject she is presenting relatable to the lives of her audience, even if the topic is dinosaurs.
“Look at T-Rex's tooth. Do we have that kind of tooth?” she asks one group of young children. “It's not as large, but we do have it,” she adds as she directs them on how to “find your T-Rex teeth.”
She sees herself more of a storyteller than a teacher. “I have information to share, but I freely let them know when I don't know something and tell them to go to a book on the subject or look it up,” she says.
With a warm, friendly voice, she exudes enthusiasm, taking objects from person to person to have them touch and see. She asks, “What do you see or what do you feel?” in trying to elicit a response. “I really do want them to take part, because that's when it becomes theirs.”
She doesn't have a favorite audience. “I love all the age groups. They each bring their own joys and questions,” she says.
She is tireless in her efforts, says veteran volunteer Tony Palermo of Richland, who presents his popular dinosaur programs at Children's Hospital and at various locations for the natural history museum.
“One day, I helped her do seven presentations, each 45 minutes or so to groups of 20 to 40 special-needs kids until 2 p.m., without a lunch break. I was tuckered out, but she was still raring to go,” he says. “It was heartwarming to see her greet every single person as they entered and sat down.”
This is typical and what makes Laemmle extraordinary, Adler says. “There aren't many museum educators I could ask to do multiple programs in a day. She does them regularly.”
These offerings need someone smart, informed, verbally agile and very dependable and committed, says Palermo — someone like Pat Laemmle.
“She's the face of the museum for kids who can't get there,” he says. Her enthusiasm telegraphs her interest and her confidence emphasizes the importance of the subject.
Laemmle seems to have an innate knowledge of students with special needs and how to win their attention and hold it, says Patricia Neidig, a special-education teacher at Sunrise, who finds Museum on the Move an invaluable activity.
“She is passionate about the work she does, and it shows in her presentations,” adds Lucy McDonough, the school's principal. The visits by “Miss Pat,” the Sunrise staff say, are ones to which both students and teachers look forward.
Laemmle began volunteering when she was 8 to help her dad, who was a Shriner. “He showed me how much fun it can be,” she recalls.
She has had a lifetime giving of herself through volunteerism and other ways. “Everyone has to do their part or share,” she says. “I've seen too many people sit back and say, ‘I've done my share.' Only problem is, no one's ever told me what my share is. So, I'll just keep on doing things. I like to feel useful.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org