As Brandy Gabel sat at the back of the reception hall Tuesday at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, she was sure she wasn’t going to be chosen for Volunteers In Public Schools’ top honor, the Crystal Apple Award.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way; Samantha got it last year,’ ” Gabel said, referring to Samantha Miller, another volunteer at Shenandoah Elementary School in Baton Rouge.

Gabel was quickly proved wrong. VIPS gave the mother of three the 2014 Crystal Apple, given to a person or organization volunteering in the parish’s public schools for at least 10 years. Gabel, who also holds a full-time job, beat out three other veteran volunteers to win the coveted honor.

“Your job as a parent is to support your teacher so your child can be the best they can be,” Gabel said.

The announcement prompted a squeal of delight from Kathy Norris, a fourth-grade teacher at Shenandoah. Norris made sure Gabel was nominated for the honor.

“The children know her,” Norris said. “She does lot of things for children, some things people don’t even know about.”

For instance, when a self-conscious girl came to school with a new pair of glasses, Gabel made sure to take a nice picture of her to give to her mother, helping the girl become more at ease with wearing glasses, Norris said.

Gabel’s facility with a camera — “I’m kinda artsy,” she says — led her a few years ago to handle the school’s yearbook. Now, she’s known around Shenandoah as the “Yearbook Lady.”

“They will see me with my camera, and they will immediately start posing,” Gabel said.

Gabel had just picked up a copy of the latest yearbook Tuesday right before the VIPS ceremony. She even appears in it as Shenandoah’s volunteer of the year, her first hint she was up for greater honors.

Gabel began volunteering a decade ago when her oldest child, Brooke, began in kindergarten, followed by Alex and finally Jack, who is in first grade. She said she started in small roles, as the “copy mom” and then “room mom,” but slowly advanced to more-involved tasks.

Gabel works a busy day job as head of the corporate office for Ruffino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge, but she said she’s blessed with a boss who allows her to duck out to volunteer, as long as she gets her work done.

“They understand that I’m a mom first and then a bookkeeper,” she said.

Volunteers In Public Schools on Tuesday also awarded Golden Apple honors to other volunteers: Don Pennington, who volunteers at Magnolia Woods Elementary; Rebecca O’Brien, who volunteers at Glasgow Middle; Kirby Brady, who was honored for organizing other volunteers at Melrose Elementary; and Broadmoor Baptist Church, which has a partnership with Broadmoor Elementary.

To sign up as a volunteer through VIPS, visit or call (225) 226-4702.