Child and Education Advocate Works Tirelessly to Support Community

Daily Point of Light # 6485 Mar 28, 2019
Pete Wahl Daily Point of Light Award 6485
Pete Wahl (right) pictured with JJ Carr, a former student he mentored through the Take Stock in Children organization. /Courtesy Pete Wahl

Pete Wahl’s philosophy in life: “If I don’t do it, who will,” is a commitment that the The Villages, Florida resident has taken seriously throughout his life, and is now dedicated to in retirement.

Acting as a mentor to students, working to support abused children and promoting education, the 73-year-old has served as a champion for some of the most vulnerable in his state through his volunteerism, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Pete to learn more about his volunteerism.

What inspires you to volunteer?
I was raised in a very small town in Minnesota. My mother was a school teacher and my dad sold farm equipment. Leading by example, my dad instilled in me a desire to be of service to people. As an adult, I recognized all kinds of unmet needs that necessitated support, and I either found them or they found me.

You mentor students through the organization Take Stock in Children. Describe your role as a mentor.
Take Stock in Children works in conjunction with schools across Florida to transform the state one student at a time by mentoring children that are identified as at-risk. That could mean they live in single parent, or low-income homes, or any variety of things. I am teamed up with a student when they are a freshman in high school, and you mentor them through high school, if not longer. My mentorship caters to the student’s needs – whether they need help reading or in some other subject. But my time is more than education, because these kids know they’ve got somebody that cares about them no matter what happens at home.

Share one impactful story with me from your volunteerism.
Probably my biggest success story is a young man named JJ who I mentored. JJ was raised by his mother in a single parent home, was the shyest kid I’ve ever met, and he had no positive self-image. We met in his school lunchroom every week all throughout the school year, and I kept in contact with him throughout the school year. We ended up helping him get into The Citadel, and more recently, I was on hand to pin his lieutenant bars on his uniform as he serves as a soldier at Fort Bennington.

You’re a champion of service within education. Why?
My first mentee – he’s now married, holds down a full-time job and is starting his own family. When I got him as a freshman in high school, he couldn’t read. We spent most of his freshman year reading to one another. We got him through high school by the skin of his teeth. He wouldn’t be where he was today if he hadn’t learned to read. And I was there every step of the way, helping him.

Tell me a little bit about your volunteerism within child advocacy.
I helped to found the Lake Sumter Children’s Advocacy Center in 1996 after several cases of child abuse in our community came to light. We found that abused children were being tossed in the back of a squad car and driven far from their homes to undergo examinations and treatment at an unfamiliar hospital. CAC is a collaborative effort between local government and community agencies starting with support services all the way through prosecutorial work against the offenders. Its mission is to provide a child-friendly, community-based facility where a child victim can be safely interviewed, provided with crisis counseling, receive medical exams and long-term specialized therapy, when needed. We’re there to support the child and family in one specialized location, so those who have been victimized don’t undergo any additional needless stress. I help to raised money for the organization, and serve as the auctioneer for our annual fundraiser. We help about 300-400 kids each year.

You’ve been called a leader within the volunteer world in your community. What does that mean to you?
I’m proud of it, but I don’t volunteer for the recognition. I never have and I never will. It’s just something I feel called to do. I tease my wife about the fact that I volunteer because I don’t do athletics (laughs).

What’s one thing you want readers to take away from your service?
The recognition that if you don’t step up and do something, it’s either not going to get done, or it’s not going to get done as well as you could do it. Everybody can volunteer. Everybody can be important to somebody else.

Tell me about an upcoming event that you are excited about.
Our Rotary Club of The Villages will host a golf tournament early in the spring. Please check their website for more information about upcoming events, and how you can help:

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Pete Wahl? Click here to find local volunteer opportunities

Post written by Marlena Militana.

Brenda Solis