Cynthia Paige retired this week from a 27-year teaching career and her final weeks as a teacher in Lake Elsinore have been marked by a unique act of charity.
Paige threw herself a retirement party at her Lake Elsinore home on May 20 and asked guests to bring a donation for the Animal Friends of the Valleys shelter in Wildomar in lieu of a gift.
As evidenced by the big pile of pet food bags and other supplies she donated to the shelter afterward, her friends and co-workers loved the idea and were happy to help.
“I didn’t want people to give me gifts. I wanted to do something,” said Paige, who taught Social Studies and Language Arts at Elsinore Middle School for the past 18 years.
She was previously a teacher at Butterfield Elementary in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District for nine years.
Tuesday, May 29, was Paige’s last day in the classroom at Elsinore Middle School, where she spent the day cleaning up her classroom. Instructional days for students in the district ended May 25; there was no class this week due to staff furlough days.
Over the years, Paige said she has adopted several dogs from Animal Friends, a non-profit organization that runs a shelter and provides animal control services for Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake, Murrieta, Temecula, Menifee and Wildomar. Paige adopted her current dog, a Basset hound, from Animal Friends as well.
“If I’m looking for a dog I would go there first,” she said.
Paige invited her coworkers and friends to her retirement party. With the invitation she included a list of supplies – including gently-used items like blankets – that the shelter could use and named their preferred brands of dog and cat food for those who wished to bring a donation.
“The shelter always needs things,” she explained in an interview on Tuesday.
More than 40 people attended her send-off bash. In all, Paige collected nearly 150 pounds of dry dog food, two cases of canned dog food, cat litter, bleach, blankets, towels, a birdcage and toys for the animals. Some guests gave cash donations and wrote checks that totaled $200, and the money also was donated to the shelter.
On Sunday, Animal Friends posted a note about Paige and her generosity on the organization’s Facebook page. The post garnered more than 100 “likes” and positive comments from people who said the donation party was an inspiring idea. “What a great woman,” one person wrote. A former student passed on the complement, “That was my 6th grade teacher, great job Mrs. Paige.”
Paige said of her party, “It was fun. I had a lot of people tell me what a great idea it was. I didn’t need a lot of little candles. I’m trying to downsize.”
Mark E. Dennis, the Lake Elsinore Unified School District’s Coordinator of Community and Media Relations, was among those who attended Paige’s retirement party and he brought a bag of dog food to donate. “She has a big heart for animals and Animal Friends,” Dennis said Tuesday.
<em>Amy Bentley is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.</em>