The lunch room is in her care

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.
A retired baker still spends a lot of time around people who are eating, but now she is watching how they behave, instead of handing them a cake.
Zola Johnson, 72, said she has been going to the cafeteria at Williams Elementary School as a volunteer to assist staff during lunch for almost 30 years. She said she began volunteering by going to the classrooms of her grandchildren back in 1979 to make sure they were behaving.
"Then I started going to the dining room because I could get a chance to see all of the kids," she said. "I just made myself available."
Johnson is this year's "Volunteer of the Year" at Williams Elementary.
"She helps keep them in line for us," said Lisa Smith, the cafeteria manager at Williams. "She keeps them in order, and makes sure nobody is skipping in the line. She helps them open their condiments, and teaches them how to clean up behind themselves. I appreciate her a lot. When you have 100 kids at the door waiting to eat, you need help."
"When I found out I was the Volunteer of the Year, I said, 'Thank you, Lord,'" Johnson said. "I didn't' feel that special, and all that kind of stuff. I just feel like I'm doing what God told me to do."
Johnson said she primarily deals with the kids from a behavioral standpoint.
"I feel God has put me there to do this," said Johnson, who volunteers at the school at least four times a week during the entire lunch session. She said she also volunteers at Lincoln Middle School's cafeteria at least once a week.
She said not only does she help out by making sure the students behave, she also helps clean up after lunch is over.
"I just get so much out of being there and helping them," Johnson said. "Helping them as much as I can is my joy."
Johnson said she chose to volunteer at Williams because it also is close to her home, and "I just fell in love with the school,'' she said. ''The students, staff, teachers and administrators are all wonderful people."
Johnson was raised in the Monteocha area, and graduated from Alachua County Training School in the city of Alachua in 1952. She was married to Reginald Johnson for 38 years until he died in the mid-90s. The couple has seven children.
"I just love volunteering," Johnson said. "I used to volunteer on my days off when I was working. Some people say I might as well apply for a job and get paid for what I do, but I feel when God gives you a job to do, you just need to do it. He will pay you.
''I love all the kids the same,'' she continued. ''The good ones and the bad ones alike, and I tell them I love them. I told one little girl to come and give me a hug, and she told me, 'My mama don't do that at home.' "
Johnson said she has a lot of fun with the students.
"They are just like my own kids," Johnson said. "All of them don't act the same, but I can deal with all of them."
When asked where she gets her volunteering spirit from, Johnson said, "I just love kids. I've been doing this all of my life. It is not me. It is God. You have to know how to handle these kids. A lot of people ask me how do I do it. I just tell them it is God. If they run me from one school, I'll just go to another."
Johnson said she thinks it is important for people to volunteer, but most people won't because they don't see anything in it for them.
"They look at it as working for free," Johnson said. "Volunteering is very important for me. It's just like I get money from the joy I get from the kids. If I keep giving my time, God will give something back to me.
"He has continued to bless me with good health, and my health is very important to me. It is more than any amount of money."

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