By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Margaret Ulm, left, watches her son play baseball at Halawa District Park while chatting with Waipahu Elementary School teacher Karen Maluo. Ulm is the creative force behind the Adopt A Teacher Foundation that gives teachers money, mentors and support.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
Hometown: Born in Daly City, Calif.; now resides in Halawa Valley
Family: Husband Michael; daughter Jennifer Gregory, 24; sons Nathan, 7, and Nicholas, 5
Position: Organizer and architect of the Adopt A Teacher Foundation, which matches community donors with teachers. Donors can fulfill teachers wish lists, donate money and supplies, or provide career mentoring in the classroom.
Honor: 2000 Finalist for the JCPenney Golden Rule Award
Quote: "I want people to realize they can step up. We must fix the problem, not put on bandages."
For more information: To get involved with Adopt A Teacher, call 485-0601 or visit www.adoptateacher.org.
Margaret Ulm hardly sleeps.
She has too many visions. Visions of how to make things better. Visions of new ways to give back to the community. Visions of solutions to problems - in peoples lives, in the community, in the world.
This is not an affliction. Its a gift.
It was a vision that led to her to create the Adopt A Teacher Foundation two years ago, a program set up to match community donors with teachers who have all kinds of needs. And it was another vision, at 4 a.m. to be exact, that gave her an idea of how to make the program even better.
And shes excited about sharing her visions.
During a recent interview, she pulled out a gigantic drawing pad and flipped to the first page. There was a storyboard, in full Crayola color, outlining her new plan to get the word out about Adopt A Teacher, February being the programs awareness month.
She has a vision of something she would call Wishing Dollars: coupons that sponsoring businesses would give to customers that they could give to a teacher in need. Those teachers would then redeem the Wishing Dollars at a sponsoring bank and use the money for classroom supplies and materials.
"I want people to realize they can step up," Ulm said passionately, pointing to each picture on her colorful storyboard. "We must fix the problem, not put on bandages."
The problem she often refers to is education. Underpaid and overworked teachers are struggling to provide the best education for our children, she said. They often pay for supplies and classroom materials out of their paychecks. Nationally, she said, teachers spend $32 per student out of their pockets every year. Its discouraging for teachers, and makes it difficult for them to do their jobs in the best way possible.
But Ulm isnt relying on tax money or the state Legislature to make a difference. Not when the community can.
And should. Ulm believes teachers need the help of the community first, not the government.
"Teachers are not a charity," she said, a look of urgency in her eyes. "They are the foundation of our community."
An altruistic visionary
It was a fourth-grade teacher in Daly City, Calif., who inspired Ulm to be a visionary.
"She opened my eyes to be able to think for myself," Ulm recalled with fondness.
She remembered Mrs. Lim putting up pictures and photographs around her classroom and having the students write stories about them. Use your imagination, she would tell the class.
"I remember one student came up with this fantastic story," Ulm said. "What great vision!"
Ulm loves teachers, and they love her.
In addition to her full-time job running Pacific Island Representatives, which helps promote and sell products by electrical manufacturers, Ulm spends more than 40 hours a week working on Adopt A Teacher: making phone calls, matching teachers and donors, and coming up with new and better ideas for improving the foundation.
This is her passion, and she wants nothing else but to improve the quality of education one teacher - and one student - at a time.
Her program is equal-opportunity. It supports all teachers and all children, regardless of economic hardships or privilege, or learning abilities. Preschool teachers, private high school teachers, college professors - any educator can benefit from Adopt A Teacher. Because they all could use some help.
That holds true for students as well.
"We need to help all children," said the 45-year-old Halawa Valley resident. "If you miss one child, you miss one too many."
Today there are more than 1,000 teachers registered with Adopt A Teacher, with donors from the business, government, private, public, nonprofit and community sectors. More than 27,000 students have benefited from the program.
"Maggie Ulm is an altruistic visionary," wrote Ellen Schroeder, teacher at Olomana Alternative School who nominated Ulm for the JCPenney Golden Rule Award (which Schroeder, coincidently, won). "She amazes me with her commitment, resourcefulness and ingenuity. Hawaii public education is enriched through her stewardship ... . She has made a difference in all of our lives."
Always giving back
Giving back to the community is something Ulm learned from her mother.
Born and raised in Daly City, Ulm was one of seven children of Filipino-Irish descent. They werent wealthy, but rich in family love. Even with seven children, her mother would feed everyone in the neighborhood.
"She didnt have small pots," Ulm said with a laugh.
Her experiences living in Northern California has made her appreciate life in Hawaii.
"When I first moved here (in 1975), the first test was riding the bus," said Ulm, who has horror stories of using public transportation in Daly City. "If the bus driver wasnt caged, I knew it would be OK."
What impressed her most was when the drivers stopped the bus to quiet down a group of rowdy teens in the back of the bus. "When he did that," Ulm said, "I knew I would like this place."
Since moving here, she has done her best to give back. She worked odd jobs to send Jennifer Gregory, her oldest daughter from her first marriage, to Holy Family Catholic Academy, a school that would reinforce their familys beliefs in God. She now attends Georgetown University.
Ulm also has volunteered at her childrens schools, helping teachers and administrators in any way she can.
Through her experience volunteering for her two sons teachers, Ulm realized how much help they needed, much more help than she alone could give.
"If I take care of my teachers, then I take care of my children," she said. "So I ask the community to take care of them, too."
She and her husband, Michael, vice president of the foundation, practice what they preach: They have each anonymously adopted several teachers on Oahu.
The couple may set the standards, but they dont force them. Donors can make their own commitments, giving as much or as little as they want. Some people give upward of $200 a month to their adopted teachers; others provide career mentoring. Donors are varied, from college education students to working teachers themselves.
But it comes down to one person, Ulm said: You.
"I am the legislature, I am the DOE, I am the community," Ulm said confidently. "It is my responsibility to set up and fix it."
Do you know someone who has won an award, given of himself or herself, or accomplished other great things? The Ohana section profiles remarkable people every week. Write: Honorable Mention, Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Ho-nolulu, HI 96802; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 535-8170.
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