There are some people who, fortunate for their community, give to others - they simply cannot help themselves. Sydney Bernard-Hogling is one of those special people. However, in her case, the giving came not only through volunteerism but also through her profession.
Born in Munster, Indiana, she attended Lake Erie College in Painesville, Indiana where she earned a BFA double major in Theater Arts and English. Sydney smiles shyly and laughs as she declares that she has loved theater since she “was in fourth grade; a friend and I wrote a play together.”
Three years later she wrote another play – this time by herself – that just happened to be in German. “I attended a school that introduced foreign languages into the public schools.”
Interest in other cultures stuck; during college Sydney participated in a study abroad program in Switzerland where they based education on the theory of bringing varied cultures together “to teach children tolerance.” Understanding those who are different was also something that stuck with her. A friend told her about an innovative program at the time, called Special Education.
“I had applied for a Masters program at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.” She dropped her head, reliving the disappointment of not being accepted, but quickly rebounded into a smile. “So I entered the Special Education Masters program at Kent State.”
Volunteering in her new field, she was assigned to a class of teenagers where her now husband, Art Hogling (the former Executive Director of Developmental Disabilities Resource Center in Jeffco) was teaching. “I volunteered for one year. The program was for kids coming out of institutions.” She admits that it was a challenging year. “That age group was not for me.” The following year she was selected to teach a new class for young children with extreme disabilities. She had found her niche.
After marrying, “Our goal was to move to Colorado and live in the mountains.” Once here, Sydney was hired for a specific program in Denver Public Schools to teach preschool children with severe-to-profound cognitive development. “These were children who had disabilities found in one-tenth of one percent of any given population.” (One of her students was blind and deaf and at first refused any tactile stimulation.) When she began the program, “my school had the only program offered in the district. It slowly expanded throughout the district in coming years, but it wasn’t easy.” There were Federal standards but they came without guidelines. “Principals had to give the okay to provide space in their building and to support the program.” It meant a sort of volunteering during working hours. “We had to not only cover the curriculum, but we also had to lobby the administration and staff to support it. Additionally, she had to ‘volunteer’ to take on nursing, nutrition, social and other tasks. “There was no opposition, but rather a lack of understanding. No one actually understood where responsibility lay.”
Sydney retired in 2013 but that only meant that she could really throw herself into volunteering. Asked about her volunteering with Stage Door, her eyes lit up and she was completely animated. “I first started with Stage Door in 2003.” She has performed in ten performances and serves on the Board.
“I love it! From audition to closing night, it’s a package. It is a process that starts with deciding to audition and it develops. You see people transform. It’s like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland – Let’s put on a play!
Sydney has also served on the Board of Sculpture Evergreen (formerly Art for the Mountain Community), and is currently on the Advisory Board. “I’ve been involved with them for 13 years.” Asked what attracted her to Sculpture Evergreen, she said, “It started out as something so different than what I did five days a week. It was great to work with Tom Ware and others who were so passionate about bringing sculpture to our community. Howard Smith invited me onto the Board. I didn’t know the scope of what was involved. They’re all such nice people and they wanted everyone to be involved. Plus, it’s all outside.”
That is yet another side of Sydney. “We came to Colorado to camp, canoe, hike and climb.” Once again, she couldn’t keep herself from volunteering. Sydney spent two summers volunteering at Barr Lake where she “fed snakes, gave tours, counted birds…” She volunteered with the Denver Audubon Urban Education program, “teaching urban kids abut wildlife.” She was part of the reclamation program at what is now the Mt. Goliath Center on the Mt. Evans road. Closer to home, she volunteered at the Idaho Springs visitor center for nine years. “We spent the first 15 years in Colorado just exploring the state every chance we could get. So when I worked there I used to say that I liked to tell people where to go.”
Sydney went above and beyond when a Wisconsin visitor asked where he might find Blue Spruce seeds. She took his address, went home, dug up a seedling from her yard and mailed it to the man.
Asked why volunteerism is so much a part of her life, she said, “I come from a background of volunteering. My parents always volunteered, so I get that.”