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Contribute to and Volunteer at Your Child's School Your Way

PTA meetings just don't fit your schedule or your personality? Consider an alternative way to give back, like these Detroit parents.

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Connect to the community

Anita Sevier's children graduated from Gesu Catholic Elementary School several years ago and now include one successful adult, one college student and one high schooler. But she remains a vital part of the school community (one teacher jokingly suggests there should be a statue of her on the playground) because of her work coordinating the school's work-study program with University of Detroit Mercy. While she's now in a paid position that's grown to meet the federal work-study program requirements, Sevier started as a volunteer who recognized the need for help for her children's teachers and decided to step up in a way that would help the whole school – not just her own children.

"I could come in and volunteer in my children's classrooms, or I could organize a program to get in and help," she says. "The better an education any child could get, the better off we all are."

Now, college students do everything from working as teacher's aides to assisting in the office, and it's really helped the teachers focus on their students without being distracted by their other duties.

She also was tapped to create a playground at the school, which ended up being a large, beautiful park with shade trees, accessible play structures and tables and benches where families can gather. Sevier has a degree in urban planning and put that to work in helping create what is now known as Gesu Community Green.

She advises other parents who want to make a difference to come in with low expectations and not expect anything special for their work. "Go in with suggestions that do not require the staff to do any extra work, because they are all tapped out. Go in with a very open mind and a giving heart."

Let your child lead

Sometimes it's your child who asks you to step up. That was true for Catherine Baloh, whose daughter attends Most Holy Trinity School. Baloh is an avid knitter and taught her daughter, who then asked her mom to teach her friends. She was already a very involved volunteer, running the school's PTO and taking a shift for lunch duty, but decided to take on the class.

The knitting club proved to be wildly popular. "It was a lot more challenging than I expected to teach a bunch of girls," she says. Until she figured out the key to keeping them in their chairs and focusing on the knitting: Snacks. "Creative problem solving was required," she says.

Volunteering has proved to be a good way to get the real scoop on what's going on in the school, as well. "Because I did lunch, also, you get to know the other kids (not just in your kid's class, but all the other classes) and watch how they interact, so you know what kids have different issues," she says.

Make room for dads

When his child started at Chrysler Elementary School, Louis Jackson Jr. realized there were only two men in the whole school community – a custodian and a science teacher who since has moved on. He wanted to form a dad's club for mentorship at the school and to help students see dads in a different light, he says.

But the club also stepped up and solved a very real problem with traffic entering the driveway every day at drop-off and pickup. A groups of dads set up what they call concierge service.

"We have cones set up in front of the building and we open the car doors, greet your kids and give them words of encouragement for the day and send them into school," he says.

The dad's club also holds fundraisers during the years. Also, at the end of the year in May, they give outgoing fifth graders gift cards and certificates to recognize their achievements and help them get set on the right path for middle school.

His son is a student at the school, but he takes his role as a male role model for all the children at the school very seriously.

"I treat every kid here like they are my own," he says. "I would risk my life for these kids because I want them to have better opportunities than I had."

Many kids don't have fathers who are involved, and having the attention and care of the men in the Dad's Club makes them understand they are worth caring about. "It makes them proud of being Chrysler students and gives them a certain pride because they have a group of men who really care about them," he says.

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