Saltwater Portrait

Dara Hearn advocates for all children

Community spirit, volunteerism earns Lewes resident recognition
Dara Hearn enjoys helping teachers and children in two school districts in Sussex County. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY
October 23, 2012

One Lewes mother's dedication to her children and their schools has earned her a nomination for the Governor's Outstanding Volunteer award, one of Delaware's top honors.

Dara Hearn, who lives with her husband, Jack Hearn, and their five children in Cape Shores, said she was surprised by the nomination.

Those who know her from Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville and her own family were not surprised at all.

Service is in the blood

"Dara is a great example of parental volunteer in schools that are making a difference in Delaware," her husband said.

Although she had worked as a registered nurse, she took the leap to stay home when her first child was born. "We were lucky," Dara said. "It saved us from having to look for daycare."

Jack Hearn is a captain in the merchant marine, so he often travels between Delaware, Puerto Rico and South America. When he is home, he is with the family 24/7 to catch up on all he missed.

"Dara is the kind of parent who gets involved at a great sacrifice to her personal time," said Jack Hearn.  "Rather than continue her nursing career, she made the decision to get involved as a volunteer."

"A lot of the time, I am a single mom," Hearn said. "All the teachers know me, and they know I am the one to contact with any problems."

With five kids swirling in different directions around her, Dara Hearn is the mast holding the ship upright. The quintessential mom taxi, she spent so much time  shuttling her kids to Selbyville for school, she decided to stick around and see if she could lend a hand. Besides school, there was also baseball, field hockey and theater performances.

Dara is used to the traveling life. Her parents went to Rehoboth High School before her father joined the Navy. She grew up a Navy brat, often moving around the country.

"Even though I was born in Gitmo Bay, I always say I am a Sussex native," she said. "I would have been born here if I wasn't a Navy brat."

Her children are now following in her husband's footsteps and, in a way, the footsteps of Hearn's father. Her oldest son, Michael, 23, is in school to become a sailor, while her 17-year-old son, Jack, is submitting service academy applications. He plans to attend an academy after graduation from Sussex Technical High School.

Behind the success and hard work of her children stands Dara, who said the house is much quieter now that most of the kids can drive. In the past, she would be taking them to Lewes Little League games, to ballet recitals and school activities.

"It was always busy, but fun," said Dara.

Schools are her focus

All of her children started out at Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville, where parents drop their children off each morning.

"I was driving there all the time," Hearn said. "So I decided to stay at the school and see if I could help out."

Hearn found so much need at the school, she helped organize a group of parents to raise funds and provide support to teachers.

"I got involved because of the kids," Hearn said.

Her children enrolled at the school in 1998, and Hearn has served as co-president of the school's PTO since 2009. Co-president Lauren Grise nominated her for the outstanding volunteer award.

Using her nursing background, Hearn got involved as adviser for the junior Red Cross club. She helps teach children about the importance of donating blood, and also practical first-aid tips.

During school hours, Hearn can often be found helping teachers with projects. She has served as a teacher's aide to provide two extra hands for busy teachers. Recently she became a board member for the Positive Behavior Support initiative, which aims to help good students succeed even more.

This fall she is the chairwoman of the Christmas fundraising campaign.

"For a few years, all of my children were in the same school," Hearn said. "I have loved every minute of volunteering there."

Her youngest son, 12-year-old Will, is the only child still at the school. Hearn is working to hand over the reins of her many positions to new parents.

Besides all of her other work at the school, she also mentors three young girls.

"I serve as a sounding board for the girls and try to be always there for them when they need me," said Hearn.

When her children reached eighth grade, they headed to Georgetown to attend Sussex Technical High School. Hearn followed them and found she was needed in that school as well.

At Sussex Tech, she was a proud sports supporter, chairwoman of the parents organization and a member of the school improvement committee.

"Next year will be the first year I won't have a child at Sussex Tech since 2002," Hearn said.

Her volunteering doesn't end at school either; she also volunteers at St. Edmond's Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach.

Message of volunteerism

Hearn's message to other residents is clear: Volunteer.

"There are so many people in need; I try to help as much as I can," Hearn said.

It's not all work for Hearn, however. She makes time each month for a girls night out with her friends.

While she loves to cook, her family also enjoys visiting local Lewes restaurants for dinner. Their favorite spot is On the Rocks at the Cape May-Lewes ferry terminal, where her oldest child, 24-year-old Natalie, worked part-time this summer.

Now that her children are older, Hearn is also taking more time for herself. She recently joined a gym and hopes to focus on her personal well-being.

"The house is getting quieter," she said. She keeps in touch by phone with Miriah, 21, who now lives in Florida and is a student at Tampa Bay Ballet.

While she looks forward to the volunteerism dinner, she vows she will not speak if she wins the top volunteer award.

"I am not a public speaker," Hearn said. "It's an honor to be recognized, but I already told them that someone else will accept on my behalf."

The Governor's Outstanding Volunteer dinner is slated for Thursday, Oct. 25, in Dover.

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