- Written by Lynda Hudzick Lynda Hudzick
Sally McKinney, or “Miss Sally” as she’s perhaps better known these days, has always wanted to make a positive impact on others in whatever way she can.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, McKinney found a way to do just that by connecting virtually with friends of all ages. Although she admits she is “not at all skilled with technology,” she is thrilled when anyone acknowledges the difference her online presence has made in their lives.
A Lancaster native and daughter of self-employed florists, McKinney spent her childhood surrounded by “warm, sunny greenhouses and the smell of sweet peas, carnations, gladiolas, and many more.”
She remembers helping with the business as a kid alongside her brother.
“We were examples of ‘take your kids to work day’ every day,” she said.
A graduate of Pequea Valley High School, she received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in elementary education from Millersville University. She is also the proud mother of two adult daughters.
McKinney spent her teaching career as a preschool special needs teacher for ages 3-6 at the S. June Smith Center for 42 years.
“It wasn’t a chosen career,” she said. “It happened to be something I applied for, and it sounded like fun!”
McKinney found those years both rewarding and challenging and particularly enjoyed interacting with families who were “sending their children who had unique and special needs, many complex, to school, for the first time.”
McKinney is proud that her work with the S. June Smith Center provided a safe, comforting, and unique educational program for students with special needs.
“We were able to assure the families that their children have skills and will make progress,” she said. “Interacting with the parents was as important as interacting with the kids.”
Fast-forward to 2020 and McKinney, though having recently retired, was asked by several of those parents if she could do something to stay in touch and “keep their kids engaged and learning” during the pandemic, she said.
“I decided to read a book … and post it on Facebook and Instagram.”
She opened each book-reading segment by engaging the children with her “breath ball,” which she said helped the children “calm down and focus before being asked to sit and listen to the story and look at the pictures.”
The infamous “breath ball,” which McKinney used in her classroom during her teaching days as a calming strategy, is simply an expandable ball that she opens while inhaling and closes while exhaling.
“It caught on, and soon I had adults, including parents and grandparents, saying, ‘I love your breath ball and breathe with you when you do your online story time … where can I buy one? I need one!’” McKinney said.
Her reading videos provide a great opportunity for grandparents to connect with their grandchildren.
“It’s fun to sit together for some quality time and read and learn — I go to the library a lot to get good books,” she said.
And with so many options to choose from, McKinney said “you can definitely get lost in books at any age. I saw a billboard that said, ‘You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books.’ I wish I had thought of that because it is so true!”
As much as she encourages reading, McKinney also believes in the importance of getting up and moving, and it is that belief that led her to work on the creation of some “movement” videos for adults of any age.
“I absolutely believe that movement is medicine and the key to a better, happier life,” McKinney said. “I’ve posted a few simple fitness videos that guide people and give instructions to move … movement can be done anywhere, anytime, with family, friends, kids, by yourself … just do it!”
During the quarantine, McKinney and her daughters took that movement idea on the road, visiting nursing homes and sharing dances they had created with the residents, while safely remaining outdoors.
“We brought some joy to the isolated residents by walking around to their windows outside and blasting our music … even getting them to get up and move a bit,” she said. “I think it was as therapeutic for us as it was for them.”
McKinney is excited that people are enjoying her story-time and fitness videos and has actually been recognized a few times when out and about.
“Kids will say to their parents, ‘There’s Miss Sally from TV,’ or ‘Miss Sally, do you have any books, and where is your breath ball?’” McKinney said. “I love sharing, and I want to make an impact … I am so happy when anyone acknowledges my contribution.”
As has always been her wish, McKinney continues to make a very positive difference to those around her.
Soni Dimond, host/producer of the “Vibrant Living” segment series on abc27 WHTM-TV’s Good Day PA, recently featured McKinney on the program and found her inspiring.
“I am convinced we need Miss Sally in our lives!” Dimond said. “Adults and all generations love her!”
You can connect with Miss Sally via Instagram on instagram.com/sallyemckinney or on Facebook at facebook.com/smckinney21.