Most mornings at the Key Center School, Lee Jost is bombarded with questions as he walks through the halls.
“Could you modify this wheelchair?” “Can you repair one of my toys, please?” “How can we improve our students’ interactions with the world?”
For the past 22 years Jost, 84, has been the Key Center’s “Mr. Fix-It.” His volunteer work is crucial because of the school’s mission to support children and teens with disabilities. Students at the center rely on a variety of devices and assistive technologies to interact with the world and with Jost’s help, the equipment is well-maintained.
Jost, who lives in the Riverside Estates neighborhood near Mount Vernon High School, was drawn to the Key Center because his grandson, Carson, attended the school. Carson was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a rare condition in which part of the fourth chromosome is deleted. Carson, now 27, lives on the West Coast with his parents. Jost has continued to serve at the school, and says he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Initially, Jost was hesitant about volunteering and worried that he didn’t have the medical background to help students. The children at the Key Center School have a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities that can challenge any volunteer.
“For a teacher to excel here, it takes a very, very special person.” Jost said.
Despite his concerns, Jost found that he could help by becoming “Mr. Fix-It” and grew to love the students.
“Over time, I’ve gotten very close to many students,” Jost said. “I’ve had a lot of fun in my life, but [volunteering at the Key Center] is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.”
The staff estimates that Jost has saved the school millions of dollars by building or repairing mat tables, adaptive use toys, privacy curtains, and a number of other projects. However, Jost’s impact is more meaningful to the Key Center family.
“Mr. Jost is always positive, and you can’t help but smile when you see and talk to him,” said Jody Stewart, a teacher at the Key Center. “His generosity and kindness are so exceptional, and I’m sure he would give a total stranger his last penny if they needed it.”
One of Jost’s most significant contributions is a procedure to help students build wooden birdhouses, trucks, and more. Jost prepares the craft kits by starting nails in predrilled holes, but while some can hammer the nails on their own, most students have trouble with fine motor skills. To circumvent this, Jost or a teacher helps each student grip the handle, then wraps their own hand around the student’s and moves the hammer. While the students might not have the strength to lift the hammer, they feel the motion and sensations of the complicated task.
Jost’s innovative methods have endeared him with the students and staff at the Key Center, and he is affectionately known as “Mr. Pound-Pound” for the sounds of his hammering.
“It’s just amazing [when using the devices] that the students know ‘my hand will make something happen,’ and it starts to unravel more ideas and more opportunities for students to interact with the world,” said Ann Smith, principal at the Key Center.
Jost has previously been honored for his service as Fairfax County’s 2001 Volunteer of the Year and as the subject of a Washington Post article in 2009.
“Volunteers like Mr. Jost are the heart of our community and inspirations for us all,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said.
Jost has learned many things about the children of the Key Center, but most important to him is the students’ ability to learn and act for themselves.
“For the students, the key is those three words: ‘I did it. I made it happen,’” Jost said with a grin.