You can’t keep a teacher out of a classroom. Active members of the Fresno County Division of the California Retired Teachers Association average 1,000 volunteer hours in and out of classrooms each year, long after they’ve taught their last class.
The division welcomes teachers from all 34 school districts under the Fresno County Office of Education umbrella, and club officials say they would love to see more retired educators from Clovis Unified become members.
Meetings are held once a month, typically featuring a guest speaker or musical performance. Field trips — like an upcoming Amtrak train ride to Reno — and social events are also planned throughout the year to keep members connected and provide fun experiences for retirees.
“It’s a social thing and we recognize people in our organization who do good work, but our biggest thing is to keep an eye on the pensions so the legislature doesn’t do funny things with it,” said CalRTA Fresno County Division co-vice president Barbara Mendes.
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CalRTA has been around for more than 85 years with the core mission of protecting the pensions of those in the California State Teachers' Retirement System. The group keeps several eyes on the legislature and meets with lawmakers personally on annual advocacy days.
“Sometimes the legislators think they’re doing something good and then our lobbyist goes, ‘But these are the ramifications of the bill you’re trying to pass; if you do it this way it works better,’ ” Mendes said.
The watchdog organization keeps tabs on the governor as well, said division president Donna Garcia.
“There’s an unfunded liability with us that isn’t protected,” she explained. “We have to keep an eye that he doesn’t cut that out of the budget of California.”
The voting power of the group is many thousands strong, said division co-vice president Wayne Bright.
“It gives us a voice,” he said.
Each division tallies its volunteer hours, which the state calculates into a dollar amount to show how valuable retired teachers are, said Bright.
“It gets into the millions of dollars,” he said.
Last year, CalRTA members from across the state served about 2.1 million volunteer hours, valued at nearly $55 million.
Mendes volunteers about 1,200 hours each year, a lot of which are spent in her grandchildren’s classrooms. Mendes taught for 22 years, mainly 6th grade, at Lane and Malloch elementary schools in Fresno.
Donna taught mostly second and third grade at Lane Elementary for 23 years.
Bright spent 10 years in Fresno Unified, teaching kindergarten through high school and set up a mathematics program at a continuation school in Fresno Unified. His wife, Sandra Bright, taught for 37 years in the district and is now the director of the division’s retired teachers choir, which will sing at the Dec. 14 meeting.
The chorus also performs at Clovis Veterans Memorial District and Clovis Senior Activity Center events, along with local retirement homes.
Helping new and future teachers
CalRTA’s Division 10 takes pride in providing scholarships to Fresno State students who are studying to become teachers and also assisting first- and second-year teachers with grants to help them start up classroom projects. About $5,000 in scholarships are and $3,000 in grants are awarded each year, Mendes said.
Funds are raised through a 50-unit apartment complex owned by the division. The Halcyon, on Dakota Avenue near Cedar Avenue, was originally intended as a low-rent option for new teachers back in the 1940s, Bright said.
Now it creates revenue for the organization, along with CalRTA’s own building, named the Saginaw Center.
“We’re the only chapter in the state of California that has its own building,” Mendes said.
The Saginaw Center, across the street from Centennial Elementary School in Fresno, can be rented out for class graduations, weddings and other events. A church rents the building regularly and a yoga instructor rents one of its rooms to hold classes a few times a week, Mendes said.
A stage, dance floor, dining area and full kitchen is available for any type of event, and several renovations have kept the building beautiful and up-to-date, members said. The venue can be viewed at www.saginawcenter.com.
CalRTA membership has steadily dropped because new members aren’t joining as fast as established members are passing away, Bright said.
“It’s a group for retired teachers, so even the young members are old,” Mendes said. “We’ve had trouble recruiting lately because they’ve put in a privacy act so we can’t get retiree addresses to mail them applications.”
Division leaders encourage newly retired educators to join CalRTA to not only enjoy social activities but also to join forces for pension protection.
“You want to keep your pension?” Garcia asked. “Then maybe you might want to think about us.”
How to Join
▪ Write to CalRTA - Fresno Division, 3930 E. Saginaw Way, Fresno CA 93726 for an application
▪ Stop by the office between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
▪ Call (559) 229-6351
▪ Visit www.Calrta.org or div10.calrta2.org
▪ Attend a meeting at 10 a.m. Dec. 14 (or the second Wednesday of any month except January, July or August) at 3930 E. Saginaw Way, Fresno.
Membership dues are $4.50 per month.