Hanging on a wall in Eloise Zeller’s home is a plaque that reads “To the mother I never had,” a tribute to a woman who has spent 45 years working with children as a paraprofessional. Zeller was one of 33 paraprofessionals honored for 30 or more years of service at a District 75 Passion and Promise celebration in the Bronx on Dec. 9. Organized by the UFT, the event acknowledged the outstanding service and commitment of paraprofessionals to their students and to improving education in public schools. The motherless special education student Zeller “adopted” presented her with the plaque at his graduation ceremony 20 years ago and she has treasured it ever since. At the celebration, held at a Bronx restaurant, Zeller’s nephew honored her with a surprise tribute, presenting her with flowers and explaining how she helped him turn his life around. A troubled youth, Dr. Kai Smith now heads an organization that helps at-risk youth, inmates, gang members and absent fathers change their lives, magnifying Zeller’s impact. Smith told the crowd of 175 that “if it wasn’t for his aunt, he wouldn’t be where he is today,” said Carmen Roldan, the UFT’s Manhattan borough advocate for paraprofessionals. “The students are what make me come to school,” Zeller said of her long career working with every age group. “I’ve never been in the spotlight before but I appreciate being recognized,” said the P 754 paraprofessional. The Bronx event was one of a series of Passion and Promise events taking place in each borough to honor veteran paraprofessionals in District 75.
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A lifetime of service