The Value of a PTA Volunteer

This blog was originally posted on The Voice of NYS PTA.

I recently attended the Fall Luncheon in the Westchester-East Putnam Region and had the good fortune to hear the keynote speech delivered by Alisa Kesten, Executive Director of Volunteer New York. The mission of the organization is to inspire, mobilize and equip individuals and groups to take positive action to address pressing challenges, support nonprofits and strengthen the quality of life in the community.

Alisa specifically wanted to impress upon those present, the value of serving as a volunteer in the PTA. I would like to share an excerpt of her remarks:

I conducted a very unscientific Facebook poll hoping to illustrate the personal and professional growth each of you can and should expect as a direct result of your volunteer service for your PTA.

I asked my Facebook friends to give a one word answer to this question: Did you ever belong to a PTA? Then I sat back to see who said yes, because I know my friends. I know how active they are at work and in the community. I know their skills, and I suspected that there would be a strong correlation between those who are or had been deeply involved in PTA and their subsequent achievement. I wanted to illustrate how every friend who answered YES had developed a variety of skills – project management, communications, advocacy, financial management, event planning, negotiating, fundraising and more – all honed as PTA volunteers which so many of us have used those skills for positive achievement.

A few of the responses included the following:

  • Some were always attorneys but now have a different specialty as a result of their involvement in schools.
  • Some had been elected to PTA leadership positions. Now many have been elected to school boards, county legislatures, and I know that Congresswoman Nita Lowey always references her PTA roots in giving her the foundation to run for Congress.
  • Many gained confidence in speaking out at public budget hearings or in leading meetings. Now they are at the forefront of issues they care about, with well-practiced communications skills.
  • There was a group who had left the workforce to raise children. But they always volunteered for PTA. Now they are restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners whose clients or vendors may have first learned of their talent and character by serving side by side on a PTA committee.
  • So many are now Executive Directors of nonprofits, like me, or program directors or finance directors at nonprofits and foundations. We’ve taken so many hands-on experiences of leadership from PTA along with us every step of the way.
  • PTA members – former and current – are in large corporations and very comfortable in navigating deadlines, personalities, budgets and more because we navigated deadlines, personalities, budgets and more through PTA.
  • And a ton of us continue to volunteer and give back to nonprofits whose missions matter to us and the community.

So thank you for the time you give, the meetings you run, the funds you raise, the events you plan, the letters you write, the e-newsletters you create, the actions you take – but know that you are building a toolbox of experiences that you WILL take with you. Those experiences can help open doors, climb ladders, and be successful in whatever way you choose to define success.

Alisa’s comments are timely as there has been quite a bit of chatter with regard to a recent Facebook post by Lean In. Their post declared that by listing as a credential “member of PTA” on one’s resume, a woman was 79% less likely to be hired. This shocking statement should surely compel us to immediately amend our resumes and make the appropriate changes on our LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter sites.

Wait! Not so fast! The Lean In post was based on an article written in 2007 based on questionable research from 2001. If in fact someone with an agenda commissioned a survey 15 years ago to accomplish some unknown purpose, it probably wasn’t accurate then and certainly isn’t relevant today.

In fact, the actual opinions of the real people follow Lean In’s bold statement. Scroll down and the truth is embedded in the comments. The life experiences reflected by the comment section paint a different picture! PTA provides the opportunity to hone and widen the scope of one’s skills by working alongside men and women from all walks of life representing nearly every profession. The transferable skills an individual develops as a PTA member working for child advocacy are enumerated and extolled within the vast majority of comments made on Lean In’s Facebook post.

Take heart! PTA is well worth your time. Be proud! Hiring managers can use people that have strong skills and won’t be put off because you care about your family. Employers that would turn away a qualified candidate because they also possess strong family values are not the norm.

Remember not to let the words of uninformed individuals with an unknown agenda minimize in any way the great work and experience gained by being a member of PTA – your efforts ensure a better future for our greatest resource – OUR CHILDREN. Because of the hard work and advocacy efforts of PTA volunteers and members, there are seat belts on school buses, kindergarten in public schools, a federal school lunch program, strengthened child labor laws, and a ban on corporal punishment. These are just a few of the many accomplishments.

Gracemarie Rozea is the president of New York State PTA. 

Do You Know of a Great PTA Advocate?

As we approach National PTA’s 120 year anniversary, it is important to stop and celebrate some of our members’ accomplishments. PTA has been a leader in working to improve the lives of all children—advocating for everything from hot school lunches to universal kindergarten.

As the Vice President of Advocacy for National PTA, I have the pleasure of traveling across the country and hearing from PTA members about their advocacy efforts, challenges and successes. At National PTA’s 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, we want to honor the incredible accomplishments of PTAs and their members.

The Dec.18 deadline is fast approaching for nominations for the 2017 Advocacy Awards, so if you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA.

As in previous years, advocates may also nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Local and state category-winning PTAs will receive a monetary award. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year.

The 2016 advocacy award winners were some of the most impressive advocates I’ve seen in my years as a PTA member. Massachusetts PTA, the state PTA winner, advocated on behalf of LGBTQ youth. Their efforts led to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously passing a measure to update the school system’s policies related to LGBTQ youth, which hadn’t been updated since 1992.

The local PTA award winner, Rochester Community PTA Council, worked to educate all PTA members and families communitywide on the specifics of a $185 million bond issue to make much-needed renovations and upgrades to school facilities, technology and infrastructure. The improvements would ensure students in Rochester are provided a high-quality education and have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn. With the efforts and contributions of Rochester Community PTA Council, the bond issue passed with 73% support.

The individual award winners were equally impressive. The Youth Advocate of the Year, Brian Rodriguez, worked to promote civic engagement and increase community involvement among youth of all ages in the Miami area. Joy Grayson, the 2016 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year, led South Carolina PTA to adopt an annual legislative platform; organized and moderated an annual state legislative conference; and revamped the state membership unit to become a state advocacy unit, which engaged community members in PTA who had no affiliation with a local unit.

These two individual advocates and two state PTAs are just some of many examples of the incredible work that PTA members and PTAs are doing across the country.

That’s why we’re excited to hear about other standout PTA advocates and celebrate their efforts to improve the lives of all children with a 2017 Advocacy Award. For more info on how to nominate a person, PTA or yourself, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards or contact Lindsay Kubatzky. Deadline for submission is Dec. 18!


Shannon Sevier is the vice president of advocacy for National PTA.

Why I Volunteer

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Even at 40 years old, I still get scared. Driving out of town to a place I have never been before, going to exercise class for the first time, even flying on airplanes can give me a little anxiety. I say things to myself like:

  • You’re going to get lost.
  • You’re going to look stupid.
  • This plane could go down and there are still wet clothes in the washing machine.

But when my kids are scared I hear myself say things like:

  • This is an adventure!
  • You’ll make new friends!
  • Flying is safer than driving!

I know the right things to say to help them be brave, but I don’t say those things to myself.

The first time I volunteered to help with a PTA function, I was nervous. I had offered to help mount artwork for the Reflections program, only to find out the other volunteers were getting together at 11 a.m. at the school (But I work fulltime downtown?!).

I felt I couldn’t back out so I used vacation time. I got my orange “Volunteer” sticker at the office and met the other volunteers for the first time. They showed me where the PTA room was and we worked together for a couple of hours marveling at the little masterpieces. I remember finding my daughter’s painting in a pile with other kindergarten pieces and taping it to black paper. It was a fun day.

A few months later, I decided I would give volunteering another try. I showed up at the spring Carnival (not knowing anyone) and I was assigned to the cash register at the concessions table. I had worked the cash register one time as an employee at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I was a disaster (they kept me in the bedding department after that).

The cash register should have been the worst assignment at the PTA event. Except it wasn’t. Instead, I stood around and chatted with other moms and we all laughed every time I had to do math in my head and tried to count change. I made a lot of mistakes. But no one said I was stupid and they didn’t audit my register. People even thanked me for volunteering. After that, I knew I could do anything.

Fast forward five years and I still volunteer at most PTA events. And now that my kids are older, they always come with me. I still work full time, but I look forward to volunteering in the evening and on the weekends because I know I can bring my kids with me. I don’t have to sacrifice time with them in order to be involved at their school. And they can help too! (Or they can at least run around the cafeteria with their friends while the moms and dads are working.) Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends and my kids are friends with their kids.

If you have never volunteered for PTA, know this: It’s an adventure and you’ll make new friends! The wet clothes in the washing machine can wait.


Heather Zirke is the president of Grindstone PTA and mom to Aurelia, a fourth grader, and Kip, a second grader.

My Inspirational Visit to a Local PTA for Take Your Family to School Week

I was so excited to represent National PTA as a member of the National PTA Board of Directors at a local event in honor of Take Your Family School Week. I went to Norco Elementary in Norco, California to participate in their event and present them a “big” check because they were one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

What an amazing visit to Norco Elementary! I was amazing to see the turnout of parents. I drove two hours through heavy rain thinking that few parents would turn out… but not so. The event was supposed to be a picnic with parents, teachers, the principal and students. However, the rain caused us to move the picnic inside the cafeteria which could not hold more than one grade at a time, so each grade took turns in the picnic.

We started with the first grade class and there were many parents eating with their children. Almost every grade level had as many parents for the picnic. Sandy Ramirez, 23rd District PTA President, participated in the “big” check presentation during the third grade picnic.

In addition to mothers and grandparents, there were so many fathers taking time to be with their children. It truly was a great turnout of parents.

Norco Elementary is nestled in a horse ranch community with a diverse community of students. Amy Shainman, the school principal is wonderful! It’s no wonder the school has the support it has of the PTA and parents. I observed her interaction with parents and students and she was so caring and warm.

I wish we had pictures to share but, Kathleen Camarillo, the PTA parent who wrote and submitted the grant application, will forward the pictures of the event to us and we’ll post them then.

We did have heavy rains all day but the sun is out again in sunny California. I have lots of snow in the mountains near my home… What an inspirational experience!

Betsy’s Holiday Thoughts

For the last few years, our daughter, Mary Frances, has created a family calendar with photos. The project began as a way to help my mother, who suffers from Alzhiemer’s disease, remember her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Each of us, however, has found that the calendar serves as a reminder to us all of our connection and how we would be different people without it.

At this time of year, we all tend to reflect on family and our precious connections to each other. Family is more than those we are related to by birth or choice. It extends to an ever-widening circle of close friends and colleagues—all those who touch our lives in a meaningful way. PTA is a family. We share not just a vital mission, but also a passion to make the world a better place for our children. That passion and our commitment binds us together as a family, and, yes, it can influence who we are as people.

As long as I have been a part of PTA—and that is a rather long time—I have been told how we are, in every sense of the word, family. With any family, there are ups and downs, but there is also an indivisible connection. Our work on behalf of those who have no voice will never be done, but working in harmony, we will steadily move forward to ensure the best for every child.

As I reflect this holiday season on the blessings in my life, I am thankful for my PTA family. We come in all shapes and sizes, speak many different languages, and uphold diverse traditions, but our connection is very real. It is embodied in a child. Whether it is your child, my child or the child of a complete stranger, we share a commitment to that child—to all children. Each of you in ways both large and small have shaped my life and made it richer. Your commitment and passion are my daily inspiration.

Yes, we are indeed family and our PTA family, 5 million strong, will continue to change the world.

May each of you enjoy the comfort and blessings of your family this holiday season!

Championing Arts in Education for More Than 40 Years

National PTA recently announced the 2010-2011 Reflections award recipients. The announcement made me look back at our history with and the importance of arts in education. It’s no secret, arts programs and classes are often the first to be cut from the school day when education budget cuts hit.

This is so unfortunate because studies continue to show that when children express themselves through the arts, they are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, more likely to participate in a math or science fair, and are more likely to be elected to a school office. National PTA and its local PTAs nationwide know these facts.

We believe in the importance of arts in education. We believe that children should not be denied an outlet for their artistic expression because of budget cuts. That’s why for more than 40 years we have sustained our very own Reflections arts program. Thousands of PTAs across the country have made it possible for students to be involved in the arts, when they may not have had the opportunity otherwise.

We’re proud of the millions of students that have participated in this amazing program throughout the last four decades. This year PTAs at all levels have seen, first hand, the true talent our students have from pre-k through the 12th grade. Either in visual arts, literature, photography, music composition, film production or dance choreography our students have an untapped talent that so many of us would be amazed to see.

For example, I was in Arkansas recently for the Arkansas PTA convention. I took part in their awards program in which more than 400 students and parents attended… and that’s just one state! It’s inspiring to see that we’re all working together to continue to champion arts in education.

Visit the National PTA newsroom (onevoice.pta.org) for the announcement of the 2011 national winners and visit the general website for more information on how your PTA can participate in next school year’s Reflections program.

Finally, please join me in celebrating the best and the brightest our PTA schools have to offer when it comes to arts education!

The Man Behind the Cloak and Lens

My dad was a magician…. Well so I thought when I was younger.  I would enter my class with a shiny, silver penny almost everyday.  The kids would be in awe,wondering how I got a silver penny.  Everyone knew pennies were copper of course.  However, my answer was simple. “ It’s magic, my daddy made it.”  My dad was not a magician, but a Middle School Science Teacher  (He actually had to leave a PTA meeting because my mom went into labor with me).

Anyway back to the magic….We  (My brother, sister and I) went to school early with him everyday and I am sure he had to find some ways to entertain us before the school bell rang.  So he would mix some “magic potions” and make  smoke, fire and my beloved silver pennies.  Looking back I truly appreciated my father being apart of my home and school life.  Knowing he could pop up at any moment definitely altered my behavior at school.  I saw him at lunch, recess and after school.  To be honest, I didn’t always want him around but was secretly comforted that he was a door or two away.

I also have a vivid memory of my childhood because of my father.  Because of his passion for photography he made sure to capture every moment on film.  Each of my siblings have at least 3 gigantic photo albums  each, starting from day one that chronicles every play, sport, dance recital, cotillion and graduation we were apart of.  Many people may not know what my father looked like because he was in a lab coat (magic cloak) or behind a lens.

Flash forward to about 20 years later.  My dad now retired but has played the same active role in my nephew’s life.  His life is being captured on film and he sets up little science projects for him to discover.  He even wants to be a magician.

But it’s really not about the magic.  The memories are about the time that was shared.  My dad is the same as any other male figure who wants to be apart of a child’s life.  Children want you to be present and active in their lives.  That is why we are so excited about the Million Hours of Power Movement and what it can mean for so many children.  It means the nurturing of the next great scientist, photographer and yes maybe even magician.

You don’t have to be a male to help us in our plight for male involvement.   Simply start with voting.

Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA.

– LaWanda Amaker is the Marketing/Communications Manager  for National PTA based in Alexandria VA. Her parents  Lin and Carolyn Amaker live in Orangeburg, SC where they raised her and her two siblings – Maurice and Sherrie

Bottom Line — Father Figures Help Families

Andre Ellis and Richard Thomas at Graduation May 2010 Father figures – they have added up over the years. I started with one – my mother Kristyl Thomas. Yes, I am the oldest son of a single-mother. She’d say to me, “I may not be a man, but I am going to raise you to become one. Until then, I am the man of this house. I am your mother and your father.”

I was intimidated at first. Over time, I quite naturally questioned how my mother could be both mother and father. I questioned whether or not I could identify one man who exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I built relationships with mentors, teachers, artists, coaches, relatives, and strangers all of whom were men and women. I could say all of them were father figures. I saw them at their best and at their worst.

At his worst…

One mentor in particular, Andre Lee Ellis, a family friend and entrepreneur lives in Milwaukee where he produces Stage Theater. After one of his productions one night, my mother introduced me to him and told him he should put me in his next show. He said I’d have to attend his acting classes and audition as he recommends all of his actors. I wanted the opportunity to shine so I attended classes, but by the time auditions rolled around, his theater company closed.

At his best…

While he did not in fact have a theater company, he made it his sole job to train me to be what I wanted to be, an actor. He dedicated man hours to assure me that he would cast me in a show someday; if not I would be on the big screen. Until then, Mr. Ellis trained me when I wanted to compete in high school forensics in the category of Drama; to compete in NAACPs ACT-SO competition; and to audition for college theater programs. I don’t remember being on the big screen because it never happened, but I remember when he said, “acting means to always be art in motion.”

“Acting is more than saying the lines, you have to feel them with actions,” he said. “You have to make them feel real. You got to make moves, you can never fake moves.”

He was good at answering my questions. I always had questions. One question I never asked Mr. Ellis was whether or not he would open a theater again. I never asked because he always said that he would. But, he had much to say, much advice and many answers to my questions overall.

I asked him at one time, how my mother could be both a mother and a father. He said, anyone can be anything and actions speak louder than convictions.

His word proved to be true. He was right. My mother’s actions have exuded beyond the barriers of sound. She has raised me to be the man that I am to so many people. He was right. He did reopen his theater company. In fact, Mr. Ellis recently reestablished his theater company and became the owner of the first African-American performing arts group to have their own space to work in Milwaukee.

Time spent being trained by Mr. Ellis was about more than acting experiences, but object lessons for me. In my eyes, he exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I would not go so far as to say he was a better father than my mother because she raised me to be the man that I am for her and others. I would say Mr. Ellis is a father figure who has dedicated valuable “Hours of Power” to help me become the man my mother raised me to be for my community. Bottom line, father figures help families.

Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA. Your voting power can provide a voice for children who need father figures.

How Dad Is Involved

Welcome to back to school time. I love the fall of the year. The weather is great (even better when you can drive a convertible), you can sleep with the windows open at night and then there’s FOOTBALL! Not pro, I’m talking High School and College. This past week Tyler (14), William (11), my wife Teresa and I attended one of our neighborhood’s longest standing rivalry games; Eastside High (blue) and Wade Hampton High (red/white). As a way of background, our two oldest (Matthew and Jennifer) attended Eastside and our two youngest will attend Wade Hampton, talk about a house divided…

Now how does this tie into Dads, Grandfathers, Uncles or any male role model supporting a student’s “back to school” adventure? Simple, you’re together!

Study after study show that when one parent is engaged in a child’s education that child is successful but when both parents are engaged that same student is even more successful.

For years we have heard from the male role models in a child’s life that “I’m not so sure I have the time to volunteer . . .” Well, has PTA got a plan for you!

This year the National PTA launched “The Million Hours of Power” campaign where we are asking 350,000 men to offer a minimum of three hours of volunteer time for their child’s school, or a local school in your neighborhood. Even if you do not have a child in school you can still take part. Now I can hear it from here, “I’m not sure I can give three hours?” OK, so let me ask you two simple questions. 1) Can you leave home go to a movie and return in less than 180 minutes? and 2) Can you at least give it a try? We’re only talking about 3 hours for the entire school year. Not 3 hours a week or a month, the entire year.

Through the “Million Hours of Power” PTA is planning to highlight new and exciting opportunities, and ideas, for getting more men engaged. It’s that simple! Can we count on you? PTA has incredible opportunities for all families; in this case we need every interested man to get engaged.

Take a minute and visit pta.org and see what the “Million Hours of Power” campaign provides. While on the computer please take an additional moment and go to the Pepsi Refresh Project and vote for the “Million Hours of Power”

As we move into this school year take a few minutes for your child and their education. I can assure you that it is time well spent!

Father's Day- Get in the Game

Father’s Day is 100 years old. It goes without question that when a parent is involved in a child’s education they succeed, but when both parent’s are engaged the child is much more successful.

So on this Father’s Day, we would like thank the dedicated parents of our country for their love, support and dedication for their children and the students of all our communities.

Dad’s play a key role. Father’s Day is but one day to celebrate and show up for the part. We encourage you continue to find the time to get engaged.

 

As a working Dad, I know how hard it is to find extra time to volunteer. If you haven’t dared to play an active part in your child’s education, here is a challenge. “Can you find 3 hours during the school year?” Three hours is all it takes, and can make all the difference for your child as well as their classmates.

Dad, thank you! Keep up the good work.