This story appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Onyx Anneau.
By Elizabeth Reel ’21, content marketing manager
“Love the children first, and then teach them.” This is a most beloved quote from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. For 183 years, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) has empowered students to be the best they can be and to make a difference as part of her legacy. Glenna Crews Orr ’71, who graduated with a degree in education, is just one SMWC alumna who has made a difference in thousands of people’s lives.
The education department at SMWC holds a special place in Orr’s heart. “I always knew that I wanted to be an educator. The education department was and still is so strong and sound. It is so well-established. I quickly became so appreciative of what the program and school had to offer me,” Orr said.
Following her graduation in 1971, Orr dove into the workforce and became an elementary education teacher, got married and started a family. With her drive to always learn, she earned a master’s in early childhood education from Mercer University and a master’s in reading from Virginia Tech.
As a military spouse, Orr found opportunities to teach overseas while living on base with her family. Although working full-time and raising a family, Orr always found balance. Orr’s teaching experience in places like Germany and Panama gave her a sense of fulfillment. “It was just important to me to continue on and make a difference during those years.”
While in Germany, Orr started an intergenerational program with her students connecting them with seniors in the area. She created similar programs in her time in Panama and her return to the U.S. “It was a way for the children to experience an adopted grandparent program,” Orr shared. In the early 2000s, Orr was asked to write a book. She initially declined but the editors suggested that she write a book about her programs as a testimonial.
Days after her book, “Open Minds, Open Hearts,” was released, she endured an experience that no parent wants to go through. Her daughter passed away following the birth of her son, Charlie. “My life stopped. My life changed forevermore. But this is where my faith began to keep me safe. It began to help me find my way,” Orr shared.
After a year and a half, Orr became active again. One morning, she woke up and said, “I think I’m going to volunteer at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home one day a week.” Orr was comforted greatly through her time volunteering and eventually began teaching again at Northern Virginia Community College.
In fall 2006, Orr returned to The Woods for a book signing. “It was a pilgrimage. It was so nice to be back and gain a little more faith,” she said. She decided to write another book and finish the process of launching her nonprofit, The Kind Kids.
The Kind Kids was established in 2006 and helps to connect children with senior residents of retirement centers and nursing homes with volunteerism in community activities and promoting literacy for people of all ages.
Orr then began publishing books under her non-profit. “It’s really been my faith guiding me all along. Charlie and my entire family have continued to serve as my inspiration,” she said.
No matter what was happening in Orr’s life, she made time to give back and serve others. After receiving a call in December 2012, Orr helped those who were impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. She visited five different times to speak with families and community members who were affected. Her books were displayed in the local library in Newtown, an honor for her. In addition, Glenna was introduced to Bonnie Carol, who runs the organization T.A.P.S., a non-profit for the care of families of fallen soldiers. She presented workshops for two years at the national seminar for T.A.P.S. Orr also became an author for Toys for Tots and continues to work with them today. Through collaborating with these organizations, she has participated in grief camps for military children who lose parents.
Orr’s next adventure will be presenting at the National Suicide Survivor Seminar, presented by T.A.P.S. in October this year. Her goal is to speak at all eight T.A.P.S. seminars. She continues her work with The Kind Kids and her writing journey with her eighth book, focusing on the essence of volunteerism. Throughout her entire life, Orr realized that no matter the adventure, success comes down to who is next to her. “Surround yourself with people you can learn from and people who can bring you strength. To help people – there’s nothing else like it,” she said. When reflecting on her teaching journey, she credited SMWC. “The Woods taught me to be a teacher, and I’ll always be thankful for that,” she said.