Thank you Volunteers!
I can still recall the image of a shadowy figure lurking in a corner of my elementary school library. She was small with shoulder-length gray hair, an eerie, ghost-like complexion, and piercing eyes that darted around looking intensely at one of my classmates. The woman’s sartorial sense was as perplexing as her presence in the library each week. She always wore a gray, heavy wool coat with a black velvet collar. It didn’t matter if it was the warmest of Nebraska spring days; the coat always cocooned the mysterious figure. The apparition reminded me of Snow White’s apple-baiting nemesis.
I began noticing the woman in third grade. Once a week my class would pay a visit to Mrs. Welch in the school library to check out books and practice being unduly quiet. Mrs. Welch detested noise. Oddly enough, she consistently and loudly banged the handles of a pair of heavy scissors on the top of her desk to demand our silence. I was fearful of the loud-noise-loathing librarian, but even more scared of the mysterious figure who always seemed to appear in the room just as we began the task of checking out titles. Why was this puzzling woman pretending to rearrange books on the dusty shelves? Why was she clearly spying on Susie Roffman, a classmate whom I was particularly fond of since our last names differed by just one capital letter? Why didn’t Mrs. Welsh notify the police of this weekly intruder?
We now have a benign and respectful name for such school interlopers—volunteers!
Susie Roffman’s mother was the first parent volunteer whom I can remember. Parents simply did not share their time and talents at my school in the 1960s. Sure, they (and let’s face it, they only referred to moms) made personal appearances at the holy triumvirate of classroom events—the Halloween, Christmas and Valentines Day parties, but that was the extent of their in-school contributions.
Looking back now, Mrs. Roffman was more than a spooky looking person (sorry, but she really did have a spectral quality to her and that coat sent shivers up my spine); she was a bold trailblazer in our learning community. She forged a path for other parents, a path that lead volunteers through the school’s front doors and into its classrooms. Mrs. Roffman shelved books in the library. My mother read with students in the hallway. I remember feeling so proud, supported and loved when I saw my mom in the school—and so relieved that she had the sense to take off her heavy overcoat!
Times have changed. The success of Island Park, and really all schools, rests heavily on the support and dedication of parent and community volunteers. It is so inspiring to walk the halls (and portables) of our school each day and see moms and dads and extended family and community members reading with children, helping them solve math problems, acting as art docents, and sharing a plethora of other talents that enrich student lives. Adults who volunteer their time accompanying kids on field trips, attending PTA events, and supporting staff, students and each other send a clear message to our children that they do indeed have an extended school family that cares greatly for them.
To all those who give so freely and abundantly of their time and energy, I offer my sincere appreciation and thanks. Whether you help out at school or at home, your support is heavily felt and is producing great dividends. The days of viewing parents as strangers at school are over. So, welcome. Come on in. Take off your jacket (please). Make yourself at home!