Never Quit Award winner teaches inmates to develop a green thumb

By AFSCME Staff ·

Amy Coonce is a horticulture instructor at the minimum-security Robinson Correctional Center in Robinson, Illinois. While she has a challenging and sometimes dangerous job, she says she’s motivated by the knowledge that she’s making a difference in her community.

“One of the biggest things that brings me to the work every day is introducing individuals that have never seen an actual greenhouse … or grown anything, and when they can learn how to grow, they get very excited and it intrigues them to maybe go home and do these kinds of things,” says Coonce.

Coonce, who has served in her role for nine years, says she gets to witness the impact of what she’s teaching every day.

“When you see these men start to soften a little bit and you can tell that they’re receptive (to) what you’re teaching … and you see them wanting to learn, and asking questions and getting A’s on tests, then you know that, this is why I come here every day,” she says.

Serenna Arndt, associate dean of correctional programs at Southwestern Community College, says Coonce stands out for her commitment to the population she serves.

“While she’s educating an underprivileged population in a correctional environment, and that takes a lot of dedication, to overcome so many obstacles that we have, that we face in a correctional environment … a teacher in that capacity really requires constant dedication, and Amy really does have that dedication,” Arndt says.

For her service to her community, Coonce, a member of AFSCME Local 3649 (Council 31), is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which seeks to recognize public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

“I absolutely feel like I have a role to play to keep the community safe,” Coonce says. “When you walk in the doors of any prison … you put on that badge, whether it’s an officer or an instructor, an educator, you always feel like you have a responsibility to the community.”