The best present Jackie Rabford ever got came from a 6-year-old boy.
A volunteer at Ferndale Elementary School, Rabford met the child when the first-grader was sent to her for tutoring last September.
"My teacher said you could be my special friend, because the other kids laugh when I read," the child told her.
At Christmas, he received a thank-you note for a gift he'd given a friend.
"He brought the note over to show me, and he read it out loud to me," says Rabford. "Then he gave me a great big hug and he said, 'See, we did it! I can read!' That was my best Christmas present ever."
Rabford, 36, who works three full days a week volunteering at Ferndale, was one of two school workers honored in a Channel 13 Salute recently. The news spot focuses on people who do good things for the community.
She and volunteer Rita Lohman were called into a teacher's room one afternoon. In the glare of lights and cameras, the two suddenly felt famous.
"I'm a shy person, I don't like a lot of fanfare," says Rabford. "But my family is immensely proud. My kids call me, 'my famous mom' -- especially when they want something."
Last week, Rabford wasn't doing anything glamorous at the school. But she was having fun, up on a chair stapling paper chains to a Thanksgiving bulletin board.
"She does everything," says first-grade teacher Sandra Harrell, whom Rabford assists. "She's indispensable. I've had paid assistants who didn't work so hard. We're a team."
Rabford started volunteering when one of her three children started kindergarten 13 years ago. "I helped with the juice and cookie program at a Baltimore City school, and it's just blossomed," she says.
Soft-spoken Rabford does a bit of everything at the school, where she's volunteered for three years. "The only thing I don't do is bring home a paycheck, but I get a lot of other rewards," she says. For example, the child she'd helped learn to read last year is now completely up to his grade level, she says.
Lohman's work for the school is less focused on students, but equally essential. She's served on the executive board of the PTA for 10 years, this year as president.
"Anything that needs to be done, between Jackie (Rabford) and me, it gets done," says Lohman. "I'm more behind the scenes, making sure she gets materials she needs."
Lohman, 37, also works as the school fund-raiser, soliciting donations.
"In a small school, funds are limited, so fund-raising is pretty much a full-time job," she says.
The mother of four also edits and prints a monthly school newsletter.
"I enjoy it. I'm a housewife, but I take care of children before and after school, and I like to be involved with their school," she says.
Louis Thomas, Ferndale Elementary principal, can't praise the two volunteers enough. "They're such dedicated people. No matter what you ask them, they'll do it," he says.
"Mrs. Rabford does clerical work, helps with the children and does about everything," notes the principal. "Mrs. Lohman works to support the school and represents us to the Board of Education. She also goes on field trips with classes."
The two were nominated for the Channel 13 award by parents grateful for all their hard work, Mr. Thomas says.
Adds Lohman, "We're not out for thanks, but it was a great feeling. The parents here thank us too by being active. When we say, 'We need your help,' they're always there."