Laura Gaffney has found a way to channel her love for giving back to the community at Portage High School.
Gaffney, a part-time school nurse and cheer coach at Portage High School, strives to teach the children of Portage the value of the community. She uses her role as cheer coach to demonstrate the importance of giving back.
“As a coach, one of the things I try to stress to the kids is that, while I am their cheer coach, cheering is not what it is about,” said Gaffney. “It’s about trying to teach them life lessons and trying to teach them to give back to the community.”
Gaffney tries to lend an ear to students at Portage High School and to offer advice where she can. She understands how impactful it can be to have someone that listens.
“As a school nurse, it’s not about just taking care of their injuries,” she said. “It’s about listening to the kids. Sometimes, you are the only person that will listen.”
Gaffney and her family have spent much of their lives living in the Region. Her desire to help the community stems from her genuine love for the people of Portage and for their consistent generosity and compassion.
“I think this community, when push comes to shove, really does get behind its people,” said Gaffney. “If there is a fundraiser to help a family, there is always someone in Portage ready to help that family in need. Portage is always ready to step up for its people.”
Gaffney, one of eight children in her family, recognizes the role of her parents in shaping her character. Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico and became U.S. citizens, led by example in their home on the westside of Gary, working hard to provide for their family and for their community.
“They taught us to work hard and that nothing comes free in life, and to give,” said Gaffney, holding back tears. “I try to instill that in my kids, in my cheerleaders, and whoever I come across.”
She described her late father, a former steelworker who had over 40 years at Inland Steel, as a man who would give the shirt off his back to someone in need. From her youth, she remembers watching him contribute to his family, his loved ones, and his community.
“That’s what I grew up watching,” said Gaffney. “My dad, giving.”
With inspiration from her father, Gaffney encourages her cheer team to regularly participate in projects to help the community, including fundraising and volunteering for Hannah’s Hope and raising funds for a Portage church that helps support breast cancer survivors.
“I feel like Portage has so much to offer its residents, and we try to be a small part in helping Portage. I was always taught that it is better to give than to receive.”
Gaffney recognizes the personal struggles with each of the members of her cheer team, but she likes to offer some perspective to each student about the struggles of others.
“There are so many people out there who are so less fortunate. I hope they can really grasp that there are so many others that have so much less.”
As a mother of five children and a wife to her husband for over 26 years, Gaffney expresses unwavering love for her family. Like many households, the family faced challenges over the years. They were challenged through numerous deployments of her husband, a member of the Air Force, and again when Gaffney attended college several years after starting their family. With each challenge, the family found strength in each other.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband and my kids,” said Gaffney.
Though she wouldn’t change her past, she urges her students to take the opportunity for an education as soon as possible.
“Go to school when you are young,” she tells her cheer team. “Get your education while you can. Don’t wait.”
Gaffney hopes she can take the advice she learned from her parents and pass it on to the youth at Portage High School.
“They taught me to give,” Gaffney said of her parents, “to give from your heart, not to give expecting anything back. That’s what it is all about.”