School volunteer takes lessons from brain hemorrhage that forced her to re-learn to read


AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Sheryl Westwick’s brain started bleeding as a sophomore in high school, the hemorrhage forced her to re-learn almost everything.

It also taught her the value of volunteering.

A math teacher “took her off period every day for months after the brain hemorrhage to re-teach me addition and subtraction,” Westwick said, “and my mom spent hours beyond counting sitting with me while I sounded out words helping me re-learn how to read.”

“And I said, ‘Someday, I’m going to pay this back.'”

Now, Westwick is being honored for doing just that, spending the last 24 years volunteering at least a couple days a week to teach kids who are struggling to learn to read in both Eanes and Austin ISDs.

The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series is a favorite for students and Westwick. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Westwick is one of 15 school volunteers, one from each State Board of Education district, receiving the Heroes for Children award at the board’s capitol complex office.

As a reading buddy at Cedar Creek and Ridgetop elementary schools, she’s gravitated over the years to helping kids who are having a tougher time reading.

“I knew just what that felt like, of course,” she said. “It was very rewarding to see them inch closer toward thinking that reading was fun.”

It’s an honor for her to receive the award, not just because it acknowledges her volunteering, but because it’s a family tradition. Her parents, Al and Carol Youens, both won the award, her dad in 2016 and her mom in 2017, for their work in schools.

“I think it’s everybody finding what their passion is, what they’re able to do, and jumping in and doing that,” she said. “There isn’t anything more rewarding than that.”

Aimee Babbs was one of the people who nominated Westwick for the award. She’s known the volunteer for about seven years, working in Cedar Creek’s front office until this year. She’s seen the impact Westwick has had on kids and said she deserves the award.

“Sheryl is definitely a winner in our eyes and a hero to the kids,” Babbs said.

Babbs is at a different school this year, and so is Westwick. She and her husband moved to Georgetown over the summer, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop volunteering.

“I don’t think that she would be able to be one that could just retire and not help kids,” Babbs said.

Westwick said she’s sorting out with a teacher in Georgetown ISD when she’ll be able to come in to volunteer. She expects to start in the coming weeks.

“There isn’t anything more rewarding than that,” she said, “to see them get excited about reading and know that their life is going to change because of that.”

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