Mary Mays was surprised on Tuesday, October 12 when members of the City of Olathe’s Special Pops Chorus and Fox 4 reporter, Kathy Quinn, interrupted her staff meeting to present Mays the Fox 4 Pay It Forward award. The award is given weekly by the television station to help bring uplifting stories to the public.

Mays, secretary for the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at MidAmerica Nazarene University, volunteers as Choral Director for the Special Pops Chorus, a special needs group for children and adults sponsored by the City of Olathe’s Parks and Recreation department. The 36 singers have performed under Mays’ direction at sporting, civic and other public events such as the Kansas City T-Bone’s and Wizard’s games as well as Christmas caroling for local businesses and at the Mayor’s Christmas Tree lighting in Olathe.

Nominated by Mary Ann Burns, a Special Pops Chorus volunteer and grandmother to chorus member Kacey Burns, May spends hours choosing music for the group, then directing them in practice once a week during the school year, and traveling with them to performances.

“It’s a nine-month commitment,” Burns says of Mays’ volunteering. “She’s done so much for all of us. Kacey is labeled non-conversant, but she sings in the car with us and she wouldn’t miss choir for anything.”

Sue Elliott, special needs program director for the City of Olathe Parks and Recreation department, say May has a special connection with the chorus members.

“They just adore Miss Mary,” Elliott says. “She has excellent rapport with them. It’s a great addition to our program because most of our activities center around athletics and some of the kids can’t do sports. The chorus gives them a way to get out in the community and be an important part of it.”

Amy Angel, a special pops mom and volunteer says Mays work with the group has helped raise the kid’s self esteem by getting them out in the community to give back.

“My daughter Shauna wouldn’t miss it,” Angel said. “She couldn’t wait to sing for Miss Mary today.”

Recipients of the Pay It Forward award receive $300 from Fox 4, which is given through the person who nominated them. Quinn handed Kacey Burns the money to give to Mays who was shocked.

“I don’t need this,” Mays said of the money. “I get paid back every time I’m with them. I can have the worst day and then spend an hour with them and I’m happy again.”

Mays’ co-workers are pleased about the honor. Dr. Mary Jane Wilder-Hardee, May’s supervisor, says, “this is a lovely opportunity to recognize Mary Mays, who deserves all this and more. We are fortunate to have her at MNU!”
Mays has directed the chorus for four years and plans to continue as long as they want her, which should be a very long time.

The Pay It Forward segment will air on Fox 4 on Monday, October 18, and will also be on their web site at www.fox4kc.com/news/morningnews/.