Helping run our school’s Angel Tree service project

Delivering gifts to our partner school in 2017.

Every year, Lexie’s elementary school does an Angel Tree for families in need from our school as well as our “partner” school. (In our school district, every school PTA is paired up with another school to help that PTA with advice or volunteers. Usually a more well-to-do school is paired with a less fortunate school.) It isn’t done at all schools, but we have a tradition with our PTA of doing an Angel Tree as a service project.

And since I am PTA president this year, of course, I am more involved in the project than I have been in the past. Most years, I have just bought items. Last year, I helped cart over the goodies. This year, I did both those things as well as advertise the event and organized the wrapped gifts that came in. Luckily, I had someone else who was actually in charge of the event.

It was her job to contact the counselors at each school.  The counselors select families in need of a little help during the holiday season and submits wish lists of items these families need. It could be household items, clothes or toys for the kids. The lady in charge then put the list online for people to sign up. We had 16 families at our school and 18 at our partner school.

Now many Angel Trees stop gifts for kids past the age of 12, but we don’t abide by that. We give gifts to everyone in the family, whether they are two months old or 17 years old. We also give to the parents and address family needs which can be anything from blankets, towels, kitchen supplies to just cleaners, laundry detergent or shampoo. In the end, we had 168 individuals or family needs on our list. Wow!

I have had friends in the past who have had to rely on Angel Tree for their kids to have anything for Christmas, so I am always happy to help. I started with adopting one kid and then moved to adopting two – one for each of my kids to help. Of course, Lexie and Jase don’t fully understand the struggle these families endure. They have a room full of toys and can’t imagine kids being happy with clothes or shoes as gifts. But we always gave those items in addition to a toy.

As the years went on this morphed into me adopting the whole family, so we would adopt two kids and buy something for the parents (usually clothes) and buy whatever their family needs were. It is hard not to go overboard with buying so I always set a budget.

This year, I decided to forgo the buying items for kids. I looked at the family needs for some of the family needs from our “partner” school. They wanted cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and blankets. I happen to be at Sam’s Club and noted that many of the cleaners came in packages of 4 so it only seemed logical to “adopt” four families. I bought laundry baskets, trash bags, laundry detergent and blankets from my local grocery store to add to the cleaners I bought at Sam’s Club. I then added tissue boxes and paper towels from my own supplies. I think they turned out very well. (Sorry for the slightly blurry photo.)

Since our Angel Tree had so many families/individuals on the list, we struggled to fill some of the last spots, which were for parents who were asking for clothes. I looked at the list and saw that many of the moms wanted jackets. I had just come into some extra dough after selling something on Craigslist, so I took that money and bought three jackets and then at least one other thing on their list – a scarf, a candle, a shirt and a hat and gloves. Yes, after doing 4 family needs, I “adopted” three more people – and spent exactly the amount I made from Craigslist.

And a week after the due date for all the gifts, our PTA room was swamped with wrapped packages. We have a very generous community. Everyone on that list got multiple things. Some had 2-3 wrapped packages, but I saw kids with 6 or 7 gifts, including a bicycle!

It took us four SUVs to haul over the portion that went to our partner school. They were ecstatic to see all those packages and couldn’t wait to deliver them to the needy families. What a great feeling to know you are helping others have a brighter, happier Christmas!

Outstanding Volunteer and other awards

My husband kiddingly tells me that I volunteer too much. My mom always says I didn’t learn the word “No” as I am always doing something for the kids’ schools or my neighborhood.

Well, I guess this proves them right.

Last week, I received an Outstanding Volunteer award from my local school district. I was picked because I was one of the top volunteers at my daughter’s elementary school last year.

Yep, I am a volunteering fool it seems.

Last year, I was first vice president of the PTA at my daughter’s elementary school. But all my volunteer hours didn’t come from there. Being the crazy woman I am, I also was treasurer at the PTA at my son’s middle school. As an officer on two parent-teacher associations, I attend a lot of meetings and volunteer a lot of time to ensure our programs were a success. (This year I am president at the elementary and still treasurer at the middle school.)

Schools nowadays are trying to offer the best education they can, but their budgets keep getting cut every year. They now rely on volunteers to help out the teachers with copies, mentoring students, or through the PTA provide student-enrichment programs such as science night, author visits, art projects, red ribbon week speakers and more.

According to the superintendent of our school district, there were over 13,000 volunteers logging over 340,000 volunteer hours which equated to $9.5 million contributed to the district. Wow! That is huge!

And it seems that a lot of the volunteers must be at the two school my kids are at as both schools won the Gold Star award for having the most volunteer hours at an elementary and a middle school in our school district last year.

This technically is not the first time I have been recognized for volunteering. For the three years, I have received the Silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award which is given by the U.S. president to any volunteer who logs between 250 and 499 hours. For last year, I won the Gold PVSA award which means I logged in over 500 volunteer hours.

Well, of course you know I am only doing all this for the awards. Just kidding. I do it because I want to be involved in my kids’ schools. They love seeing me there. And I feel like I am making a difference not just for them but for all the students.

And in order to volunteer as often as I do give up something. I give up my precious writing time. This is why it took me three years between my fourth and fifth books. I would like to be able to crank out stories as fast as some other authors, but I can’t do it. I can’t not be involved in my kids’ school while they are still young. One day they will be older and off on their own and then I can devote all my time to writing. Until then, I will just keep volunteering. (And earning those awards!)

Crazy Decision – Becoming PTA President

I’ve been on the executive board of my kids’ elementary school since Jase entered kindergarten seven years ago. I only have one year left on this board until we are done with this school. (Jase moved on last year and Lexie only has one more year to go.) This year has been stressful, and I want to focus more on writing, so I had thought that I would drop being an officer (which I have been for the past 4 years) and just go back to a simpler committee chair job.

I knew what position I wanted. All I wanted to do for my last year was throw my daughter and her classmates a great party at the pool as part of their graduation onto middle school. I wanted to be fifth grade party chair.

Then as talk about filling officer positions circulated, the suggestion was I take over the secretary position. Ok, I thought. I can co-chair fifth grade party and be secretary.

Then a week or so later, they sprang it on me. The person who they thought would be president wanted to be treasurer next year and then she would do president the following year. Our current PITA (that is pain-in-the-ass) 2nd VP was considering a second run as president. No one wanted that. In fact, no one wanted her on the board, let alone in a position of power as she had been for the past four years. They wanted me to become president, so she couldn’t.

Dang, I thought, all I want to do is throw a party at the pool.

I’ve spent the past two years in the first Vice President role. I have watched our current president struggle with a rough year with lack of volunteers. And now they think I want to do this?

Sigh. Well, I have to say, I am crazy. And I obviously don’t know how to says no – just ask my mom or husband. They both will agree that no doesn’t seem to be in my vocabulary when it comes to volunteering. So, after some consideration and long conversations with my husband who encouraged me to do this, I decided to take the plunge. I decided to agree to be president for just one year. (You are allowed a maximum two years at any position.)

Two weeks later, I was nominated. A week later, I was elected by an unenthusiastic bunch of parents who were only present to see the ukulele concert after the PTA meeting.

Now I need to line up my committee chairs and fill two officers positions (2nd VP and secretary) that weren’t filled. It will be up to me (and the other officers) to convince people to come back to the board and to continue to support our PTA after many of them have been driven away by the PITA 2nd VP.

Sounds like fun, huh? Yeah, I agree. Not fun at all. But I signed up for this. Gee, I must really be crazy.

Organizing PTA Parent-Education seminars

Part of my responsibility as first vice president of my daughter’s elementary school parent-teacher association (PTA) is to bring in speakers to help educate the parents. Last year, I brought a speaker on cyber-bullying. My goal this year was to bring in two different speakers.

One of the fifth-grade teachers at her school is also member-at-large for the Texas Parent-Teacher Association. For the past few years, he has given a speech about Maximizing Parent-Teacher Conferences at the annual statewide leadership conference. But he has always told those of us who attend from his school that we shouldn’t attend his speech as he can always give us that information at a different time.

Last year, I wanted to get him to give this speech at our school but I approached him in the middle of September and we couldn’t get anything planned before conferences started in the middle of October. Instead, I had to settle for him writing a two-sided flyer that gave parents tips. (Check out my post about it here.)

This year I approached Mr. Shelby in August, and we scheduled his speech for the end of September as conferences begin mid-October. As with any presentation, you can plan and advertise it but getting a full house is a different matter. I think even Mr. Shelby was worried about getting people to show up. We had 26 parents attend which nicely filled up our library tables but is a real small percentage of the parents who have children attending the school.

The main point of his presentation is that the parent-teacher conference is not the first time you should see your child’s grades. In our school district, you can go online and check grades on homework and tests plus there are always papers coming home. There really should be no surprises.

The parent-teacher conference is a time to work with the teacher in deciding what areas your child needs to work on. Even good kids have something that can challenge them or maybe there is something that can push them to achieve more.

The second speaker I plan to bring in will speak on children and internet safety. I will be going through the Texas PTA’s Ready, Set, Achieve program since the CyberBullying one last year was so well done.

Internet safety is an important topic in our technology-driven society and with the ever changing technology and apps out there, I don’t think parents can attend too many of these talks. In fact the middle school just brought in someone from Homeland Security to talk about the same thing.

It was a good speech though most of the information covered was stuff that I have heard before. He recommended that you check your kids’ phones weekly. You should know who they are talking to just as you would want to know who their friends are if they were meeting with them in person.

He recommended the website netsmartz.org as a way for parents and kids to learn more about online safety and the dangers of posting information online. To report Cyber Bullying, he recommended Cybertipline.org. Both websites are hosted by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

I’m looking forward to my January speaker and if he/she provides any useful websites or information, I will certainly write a post about it.

Fundraising time at the schools again

I’ve written before about the fundraising done by both my kids’ schools and the Parent-Teacher Associations. It sometimes seems that every time you turn around someone is wanting money. But as annoying as that can be, I do understand that both these groups need the funds.

This year with Jase at the middle school and Lexie at the elementary, there are twice as many opportunities to donate money.

The middle school PTA basically just asks for money. They call it making a Greenback donation. They also do a silent auction during the school’s open house. Between the two events they bring in enough money to run the few programs they have planned for the year. (The middle school PTA does quite a bit with far less money than the elementary PTA.)

The elementary school PTA’s big fundraiser won’t happen until April when they hold their annual festival and silent auction.

Both PTAs have a few Eat for a Cause events planned for November and again in the spring. This is where families can eat at a certain restaurant on a given night and a percentage of the proceeds goes to the PTA.

This year, the elementary is also trying Square Art, where the students draw art that can be put on pillow cases, magnets, note cards and a variety of other products for parents to buy.

Beyond the PTA fundraisers that support the awesome PTA programs, both schools have fundraisers to buy new technology, supplies or in the case of the elementary – fund field trips. The middle school in the past has sold cookie dough or magazines. This year, they are offering a fundraiser that offers those items and more. Other items include nuts, candy, candles, and jewelry. The idea is that people can find something they like in the catalog or online.

Jase is in orchestra. They too have a fundraiser. It is a concert and spaghetti dinner. The only negative for this catered meal is that it is happening a week after the school fundraiser ends. It just makes it harder when asking the grandparents to fork out money for both events. But it is also Jase’s first concert so of course we are all going.

Now the the elementary’s fundraiser this year will be a little different. For the past four years they have done a fun run. This year, the principal decided to try his own version of a Greenback fundraiser. He is kicking it off with a dance/movie night where kids can come to school in their Halloween costumes. It will be interesting to see if this is as successful as the fun run.

And then there are the other groups asking for money – the book fair (supports the library) or saving Pennies for Patients (Leukemia). Even the school pictures offered each semester are a fundraiser for the school. Then there are the donations – canned goods, school supplies, underwear/socks, and Angel Tree gifts. It certainly adds up. We try to give to each food/supply drive or fundraiser. But sometimes you have to draw a line somewhere. It is early in the school year so we haven’t reached that point…yet.

Joining my son’s middle school PTA

When my son started kindergarten six years ago, I joined the parent-teacher association (PTA) at his school. Being in the PTA allowed me to know more about what was going on at his school.

This year, Jase will move to middle school. It only seemed natural that I would join the PTA there. My original goal was to just be a volunteer at school and PTA events. I thought maybe if there was a committee chair position open for something easy that I might do that.

Ha…it is never that simple. Last April, the middle school PTA was trying to fill one of the hardest to fill officers position – the Treasurer. So many people just don’t seem to want to be in charge of the money.

I, however, had already been treasurer for the elementary PTA. While I am not accountant, I do handle the money side of my husband’s law firm and have handled my family’s money ever since my husband and I got married over twenty years ago.

At first, I was hesitant to take such a large role on a PTA that I know nothing about. Plus, I am working on my fifth novel and had made a vow to spend more time working on it instead of doing so much volunteering.

But then person after person turned down the Treasurer position. It isn’t a position you can leave open so I decided I would do it even though this would mean I am an officer on two different PTAs at the same time. (I am first vice president in charge of programs and parent education on the elementary PTA.)

It has been a few months since I was elected and school is about to start, but I still feel I know very little about the middle school or the PTA’s programs. At least with the elementary school, I held a chair position for three years before I became an officer. This allowed me to understand our programs and goals before I was one of those people running the show.

I don’t have that luxury with the middle school. I am just going to have to learn on the go. So far, I have been to one officer meeting where we met the new middle school principal and new assistant principal.

This week will start the real work of the PTA. We will be decorating the bulletin boards, helping with orientation set up for the incoming sixth graders and hosting a welcome back breakfast for the teachers. And in most cases, I need to be there as money will start coming in for membership. And next week school starts so there should be more membership money rolling in.

And before I know it, the PTA’s big fundraiser will be happening (on my birthday). The money part doesn’t worry me. It is more not knowing what I need to do at each event. I guess I will figure things out as I go along. The real trick will be balancing the commitments of two PTAs. Luckily, both PTAs communicate with each other and do not usually plan events on the same days. But even with that, it still going to be a busy school year.

My plan to spend less time volunteering has failed

It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. Maybe it was just a nice passing thought but with the New Year, I wanted to spend less time volunteering at my kids’ school and more time writing.

For the past two years, I have been an officer in the parent-teacher association (PTA) at their school. With that volunteer position comes a big time commitment. It means helping out at PTA functions as well as doing my officer position as Treasurer.

prez_volunteer_awardlogo_april_09_flat_customI volunteered enough hours in the past two years to receive the Silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award. This is a national award given to those who volunteer between 250 and 400 hours a year. (I received a certificate and a lapel pin each year.)

This year I am the first vice-president in charge of parent education and PTA programs. This position isn’t as time intensive as keeping the books for the PTA, but I do still volunteer a lot of my time helping with our programs.

So at the beginning of the year we had a PTA board meeting. I took myself off the scholarship committee announcing that I was trying to cut back my volunteering. I didn’t raise my hand when they were forming the budget committee.

When they talked about things that need to be done for our upcoming festival, I agreed to do the flyers and signs because that is something I love to do, and since I did them last year, I have many of the files already done.

Then came the news that the woman in charge of the fifth-grade pool party (an end of the year celebration for those leaving elementary school to attend middle school) had to step down. They were looking for those who would chair the committee or at least help out. Since I have a fifth-grader, I couldn’t say no to helping.

I bet you can see where this is going. Yep, by the time we had our first committee meeting, I had begun talking to people about last year’s party. And since I was treasurer the past two years, I had access to the party expenses. And before I knew it, I seemed to be in charge of the committee even though I haven’t officially taken on the chair position.

Ok. The party isn’t until the end of May and tons of parents usually want to be involved so I think I should be fine with this additional responsibility. And then…

The PTA needs to form a nominating committee to elect officers for the next school year. When the PTA President announced this at our general meeting last week, there was dead silence from the audience. No one wants to be on the committee, and we need five members. Finally a few of us dedicated PTA board members raised their hands. (Yes, you know I was one of them.)

After the meeting, the five of us on the committee were supposed to meet and pick a chair. Somehow three of the others met without me and said while they didn’t mind being on the committee that they didn’t want to chair it. I bet you can guess what happened next. Yep, I am chairing the nomination committee.

The good news is the nominating committee is a short term commitment. We will be done by next month.

So I had good intentions to volunteer less. I do want to spend more time writing. I guess now I will just have to find a way to do it all.