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Stamford Volunteer Retains Passion For Education In 5-Decade Career

Clare Harding, who retired after spending 40 years as a guidance counselor in Greenwich, now serves in the same capacity as volunteer at Stamford Academy.
Clare Harding, who retired after spending 40 years as a guidance counselor in Greenwich, now serves in the same capacity as volunteer at Stamford Academy. Photo Credit: Contributed

STAMFORD, Conn. — Stamford’s Clare Harding spent her entire professional career in education, and after more than 50 years in the field, she still displays the passion of a first-year college graduate.

“I enjoy my days here because the students have so much energy,’’ said Harding, 77, a volunteer guidance counselor at Stamford Academy who was recently named Volunteer Square’s Volunteer of the Month. 

  • Who: Clare Harding, Stamford
  • What: Volunteer guidance counselor at Stamford Academy
  • Did you know? Harding retired from Greenwich High School in 2011 after working in the district for 40 years

Harding retired in 2011 after 40 years as a guidance counselor at Greenwich High School. Before that, she also taught math at schools in Maryland and Massachusetts. After she retired from Greenwich, Harding accepted a volunteer role at Stamford Academy.

“I live up the street, I’m a widow [her husband, Judd, died in 2008], and I have all this time on my hands,’’ Harding said. “You have to retire to something. I had all this experience. I was thrilled to go.”

Harding averages three days and 18 hours a week at Stamford Academy, which she describes as a school “for those who have stubbed their toe and need a fresh start.” 

Students from Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport attend Stamford Academy, taking advantage of smaller class sizes and family advocates to help steer them on their educational path.

“I’m so in awe of these students,’’ Harding said. “They’re so resilient. and they are ever so appreciative for the help they receive. Some of them have had tough lives, very challenging experiences. They want to get that high school diploma.”

These students with whom Harding works are far different than those from her days at Greenwich. She discovered, however, that “kids are kids.”

“Certainly it’s a much different atmosphere,’’ Harding said. “But at Greenwich, I worked at two alternative sites, so I had experience with it. I enjoy it because the students have so much energy. They are survivors. When you hear their stories, how they get up every day and put one foot in front of the other, it’s inspiring. Some of them have moved all over the place. They just roll with it.”

Stamford Academy students sometimes say Harding reminds them of their grandmother. Julia Wade, the school’s director of volunteers, said Harding’s affection for kids is clear.

“That’s not to say she’s a pushover,’’ Wade said. “She sets high expectations and the students meet her more than half way. Clare is the perfect combination of big heart and professional expertise that makes her worth her weight in gold.”

When Harding retired from Greenwich, she felt that it was time to let a younger person take the position. 

“People kept asking, how do you know?’’ Harding said. “There’s a voice that says it’s the right time. I know it’s wonderful to have all that experience. I thought it was time for fresh blood and a younger counselor. I had a nice long run, but I also knew it was time for somebody else to take over.”

The volunteer role at Stamford Academy works perfectly with Harding’s schedule. It provides the right balance of working with students she adores without the stress of an everyday workload.

“There’s something about high school kids,’’ Harding said. “They are contradictory in their feelings. To see them grow and change over time is quite rewarding. I’ve always liked the challenge of it. The students at Stamford Academy are so appreciative and the staff is delightful to work with. This is the perfect situation for me.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Square, click here.

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