Cape Henlopen School District employees Celeste Babiarz, Tim Bamforth and Equetta Jones have been nominated for the 2021-22 national LifeChanger of the Year Award.
Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, the award recognizes K-12 educators and employees who make a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.
H.O. Brittingham nurse Celeste Babiarz, or Nurse B, as she is known throughout school, was nominated by her Assistant Principal Equetta Jones, who joined HOB before the 2021-22 school year and is also a nominee this year.
Jones said she nominated Babiarz to acknowledge the important role school nurses play.
“Nurse B has been my lifeline since I got here,” Jones said. “She has a way of loving and supporting us. Many people don’t see what goes on in the nurse’s office behind the scenes.”
Babiarz, who is a nationally certified school nurse, joined HOB in 2006. She previously worked as a nurse in the Milford School District, in public health, and for a local physician, and she helped open the now-closed Planned Parenthood facility in Rehoboth.
“I love it,” Babiarz said. “I truly love my career choice of being a nurse. I like to be able to support and help people.”
On any given day, Babiarz distributes medication either on schedule or on demand, conducts vision and hearing screenings, and triages and treats student ailments either in the office or by calling 911.
“I love every minute of being a school nurse,” she said. “You never know what’s going to walk through the door. The kids make my day. I like to treat them as if they are my own.”
Jones, who was nominated by a family member, was the National Association of Elementary Principals Assistant Principal of the Year in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, a parent nominated her for the LifeChanger award.
Right now, Jones said, she is focused on advocating at the national level to expand the role of assistant principals, many of whom are known by students only as the discipline dean.
At HOB, Jones said, she works to help girls who don’t feel heard or seen find their place in the world.
“I know the need,” she said. “I know men are powerful, but without women, men would fail. Girls need self-confidence and encouragement.”
Girls meet monthly with Jones in what she calls a “Sister Circle,” where they can lift each other up, learn about different cultures at others’ homes and about HOB’s culture of leadership, she said.
“I love my job,” she said. “I love kids. They help me become who I am. They build me, they grow me, and they hold me accountable. They help me be better and make me remember my ‘why’ every day.”
Before joining Cape, she was assistant principal at Highlands Elementary in Wilmington, and she still keeps in touch with students and staff at the school.
“The chief custodian calls me every Friday on his iPad and walks around the school so I can say hi to everyone,” she said.
Tim Bamforth, a 31-year Shields Elementary School physical education teacher, was nominated anonymously. Bamforth’s contributions have gone beyond the classroom and into the community, where he is also a Cape High indoor and outdoor girls’ track and field coach, Rehoboth Beach recreation director, Seashore Striders running club coach and race director, and Cape Gazette columnist.
“My goal is to always make a positive difference in kids, whether it be elementary kids I teach, or middle school and high school kids I coach,” Bamforth said. “My goal is to make them successful. I live in a great community with some very helpful, caring folks and great student-athletes, and I am honored to receive this award nomination; however, at the same time there are many, many people in our Cape community that also deserve this honor."
After Cape High sophomore Maggie Browne passed away in 2021, Bamforth organized the inaugural Maggie Mile Run/Walk to raise money to fund a Maggie Browne Track & Field Scholarship.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he found creative ways to keep kids and adults engaged, as well as holding the running community together and creating an atmosphere where everyone roots for each other until the last runner crosses the finish line.
"I mention these races as a small glimpse into the caring individual Coach Bamforth is,” his nominator said. “He never looks for any recognition or praise. There are not enough words to express the impact he has made.”
Each school year, LifeChanger of the Year receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Eighteen individual LifeChanger of the Year awards will be given during the 2021-22 school year.
Winners receive monetary awards to share with their school or district. The grand prize winner receives $10,000, four grand prize finalists receive $5,000 each, 10 LifeChanger Award winners receive $3,000 each, the Spirit Award winner receives $5,000, the Capstone Award winner receives $3,000 and the Spotlight Award winner receives $5,000.
Winners are chosen by a selection committee comprising former winners and education professionals, and recipients will be announced in early 2022.