For nearly two years, Paula Johnson Neal has been a volunteer at our Ronald McDonald House. She currently staffs our front desk on the first Sunday of every month and greets arriving visitors and families with her warm smile. The Sunday afternoon shift is typically the busiest check-in time for families. Professionally, Paula has worked as a teacher and preschool director for 25 years. She currently works at the YWCA of Columbus as the preschool director over the organization’s center serving children experiencing temporary homelessness. In addition to volunteering in her spare time, she enjoys zip lining and writing.
Her interest in serving children and families in their deepest times of need matches RMHC’s mission to create, find and support programs that directly improves the health and well-being of children and their families. Paula says witnessing families in distress can be heartbreaking, however, she believes the benefits of being a comforting resource outweigh it. “My employment and volunteer status reminds me that we never know what children and their families are going through. The importance of teaching kindness to all – especially children – needs to start early.”
This past June, Paula decided to combine her love of writing with her love of children by becoming a published author of a children’s book titled, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY!” As Paula describes it, “It’s is a multicultural children’s picture book that provides a window into a classroom involving a bully named Gabby. Gabby wants to have her kind of day at the expense of her classmates.” Fed up with Gabby’s words, “I’M GONNA HAVE A GOOD DAY,” not matching up with her actions, Gabby’s classmates take a stance. “The book’s cliffhanger provides an opportunity as a conversation starter for teachers and parents with children to discuss the importance of instilling and displaying kindness,” Paula says.
Paula points out that the urgency of the message this book carries during this critical time in our society can’t be understated. “This book is very important because children, as young as 4 years of age are experiencing some form of bullying type behavior in preschool, grade school and on the playground.” Paula goes on to say that, “Many may argue young children are learning how to socially and emotionally interact with their peers. Sadly, behaviors that are precursors to bullying and actual bullying do exist in many early childhood settings.” In addition, Paula adds, when consciously and unconsciously left unaddressed, rather than used as teachable moments, “children displaying precursor behavior and children on the receiving end may enter kindergarten socially-emotionally ill-prepared.”
Editor’s Note: Paula has chosen to further support the mission of the RMHC by donating a portion of the books proceeds during the month of January to RMHC of Central Ohio. Her book can be purchased on her website, paulajohnsonneal.com.