Heidi Moll has always loved working in kitchens.
That's why, as a student in the Wyomissing School District in the late 1980s, she signed up for the culinary arts program at the Berks Career and Technology Center, which at the time was called the Berks Vocational School.
It's why, after graduating in 1988, she worked in a string of commercial kitchens, serving as an assistant chef or line chef.
And it's why, when her daughter, Abigail, was born in 1993, she headed back to BCTC to start a 20-year stint as an instructional assistant in the culinary arts program.
"I wanted to stay in the food industry, but being a mom in the food industry isn't the easiest thing to do," she said. "There's a better schedule in education."
Moll still works as an instructional assistant at BCTC, although no longer in the culinary arts program. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 she transferred to the less-physically-taxing mechatronics and precision machining technologies programs.
She has worked with students in those programs, both housed at BCTC's west campus in Bern Township, ever since.
The change in subject matter hasn't dulled her love for education. And it hasn't affected her impact in the classroom.
That much is evident by the recent announcement that she was named the 2020 Dolores McCracken Education Support Professional of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Moll has served the past three years as the president of the Berks Career and Technology Education Support Professionals Association, a local union affiliated with the PSEA.
Moll said she was taken aback at the mere fact that her union members nominated her for the statewide award, let alone that she won it.
"I was just overwhelmed with that, that they felt I deserved this award," she said. "Then to find out that on top of everything I won it? Wow. I'm just really, really thrilled."
But, of course, Moll isn't in education for the accolades.
The 50-year-old said she thoroughly enjoys her job. It allows her to work closely with students, mostly special education students, and serve as a conduit between them and their instructor.
She gets to help them overcome their challenges, to celebrate their many successes. And along the way they become like family, she said.
"I love the students, I really do," she said. "Sometimes we spend more time with these children than we do with our own. They become your children, they become your family."
Moll said she has similar feelings about her co-workers at BCTC. They supported her when she needed it most, were there for her through her cancer fight and the 2017 death of her son, Timothy, in a motorcycle accident.
"I don't know what I would do without my BCTC family," she said. "They've always been here for me. They are my home away from home.
"I call BCTC my happy place."
Moll credits her work, as well as her work with the union, as the outlet that let her work through her pain and grief.
"I needed to focus on something else," she said.
And that focus has allowed Moll to reach a lot of kids.
"Heidi is making a difference in the lives of her students every day," said PSEA President Rich Askey. "She is a positive role model for students and a strong advocate for her colleagues. I am proud to count her as a fellow PSEA member."
Carol Forbes, an administrative assistant at BCTC, said Moll's dedication isn't just reserved for her students. It also is directed at the members of the union she leads.
"Heidi personally speaks to all new potential union employees and focuses on what a difference a strong union can make to its members and other relationships," Forbes wrote in a letter nominating Moll for the award. "She invites potential members to a local membership meeting, she shares benefits from the contract, she explains local union events and training opportunities, and she welcomes questions, concerns and time to think about the decision."
Moll lives in Mohnton with her husband, Tim. She will be recognized during the PSEA House of Delegates virtual meeting in December.