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Mr. Urbigkit Goes to Washington

by Tess Hetzel
A Senior Corps volunteer, John Urbigkit of Cheyenne,WY, accepts the Jefferson Award for Public Service with Senators Barrasso and Enzi. Urbigkit serves as a Foster Grandparent at Triumph High School. (Photo courtesy of KCWY13)

John Urbigkit has service in his blood. He has volunteered as an EMT medic, Boy Scout leader and even earned a Purple Heart for his service in the Korean War. But it is his role as a Senior Corps volunteer with the Southeast Wyoming Foster Grandparent Program that earned this community hero a distinguished honor that brought him to Washington, DC.

Created by Jackie Kennedy and Robert Taft, Jr. in 1972, the Jefferson Awards for Public Service are given to honor, reward and promote community volunteers in public service efforts. Urbigkit was chosen for the award this year for his invaluable service as a Foster Grandparent and science tutor at Triumph High School. Triumph is an alternative school in Cheyenne, Wyoming for youth that might struggle to fit in a traditional high school program.

‘Grandpa John'

John's wife Margaret Urbigkit, who had been a Foster Grandparent for five years, encouraged him to volunteer. Five years later, Mr. Urbigkit is hooked on volunteering with kids.

The students affectionately refer to Urbigkit as “Grandpa John” and he attributes his success as a tutor to the teachers who allow him to work with any student that approaches him. Students may come to him for help with school assignments and personal life decisions but they always initiate the conversation, Urbigkit explained. As a retired quality control chemist, even teachers consult with him with on science questions.

A level of patience, self-discipline and selflessness is what makes Urbigkit a fantastic volunteer. Mrs. Urbigkit shared a particularly touching example of a student who was going to drop out but John convinced him to stay in school. “He told me his side of the story and I told him my side of the story,” Urbigkit said. This student made sure to find Mr. Urbigkit on graduation day to thank him for getting him there.

A Win-Win Partnership

Several years ago, John became ill but discovered he didn't have to go it alone. The same students he mentored in science supported him throughout his recovery process, checking on him and accompanying him to radiation or chemotherapy treatments.

Like many Foster Grandparents, Urbigkit has found that participation in the program has kept him informed and active and his wife believes the program has made him more patient. In the evenings, Mr. and Mrs. Urbigkit discuss their students and their successes.

Urbigkit often references a quote Lawrence J. Peter's The Peter Principle: “If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Urbigkit's trail certainly reflects Mr. Peter's words. With just the simple urging of a loved one to take the plunge and volunteer he has changed the direction of not only his life, but those of many young people in Cheyenne.

Foster Grandparents is a Senior Corps program with the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteers support children and youth who have exceptional needs – mentoring troubled teens and young mothers, caring for premature infants or children with physical and mental disabilities, or tutoring students struggling in school. Read more stories about Foster Grandparents.

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