The busy parent's guide to volunteering

Volunteering isn't all about time, if you find you're always saying no to opportunities, try one of these helpful ideas.

volunteering
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We’ve all felt that guilt. It comes when your child brings home a note from school asking for volunteers—and, yet again, you can’t sign up. Whether it’s a demanding job, a new baby at home, an aging parent who needs your care, or other responsibilities, you simply can’t spare enough time to work on the school’s green committee or plan the Fun Fair. As much as you’d love to be more involved, it’s just not in the cards. Or is it?

Despite what the guilty voice in your head would have you believe, it doesn’t take countless volunteer hours or hundreds of dollars in cash donations for parents to contribute to a better school environment. Here are eight ways you can make a difference, with minimal face-time required.

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Go to school council meetings
It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on, and have your say too. There’s usually just one evening meeting per month, and it’s open to all parents, whether they’re members of the council (sometimes called the parent-teacher association or parent council) or not. Show up when you can and you’ll start to become a familiar face to the principal, vice-principal and a few teachers, which can be a boost if your child has any issues down the road.

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Volunteer from home
Spend an hour or two one evening bagging snacks for your school’s breakfast program, preparing prizes or games for special events, or organizing craft supplies for the next day’s art activity. Just ask the teacher, principal or vice-principal if there’s anything they need done.

Buy something
Are your kids trying to sell you something? Whether it’s chocolate bars or books, try to spend freely. Fundraising profits can add up to major resources for your school. Money from Scholastic book orders usually goes toward the purchase of classroom books or library resources. And if your favourite magazine subscription is coming to an end, remember that you can renew through the QSP program, which filters a portion of proceeds back to your child’s school. Provided your school participates, you can log on to the QSP website anytime, being sure to key in your school’s ID number.

Pass along gently used books and toys
So many of our kids are lucky enough to have a surplus of these items at home. There are dozens of places you could donate them, but try your child’s school first. Maybe your second grader isn’t into the solar system, but some of his classmates might be. Check with teachers or the librarian to find out what would be wanted and appropriate.

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Donate your special skills or connections
Gifted with a paintbrush? Offer to create a mural for the gym after-hours. Know how to get hold of a famous athlete? See if you can arrange a school visit and thrill the kids. Perhaps you’re a tech whiz who could finesse the school’s website. Most of us have something to offer—just ask and be prepared to follow through with your idea.

Help your school apply for a grant or sign up for a special program
Whether it’s to start a breakfast club or to educate kids about bullying, every school could use a little help—and there are dozens of national programs available to fill the void. If you think your child’s school could benefit, talk to a teacher, principal or vice-principal, and offer to take care of the paperwork.

Take your family to Movie Night or the Bake Sale or…
From air band competitions to the fall Fun Fair, most school or student councils host a few events each year to bolster spirit and community, and to help raise money for supplies, events or special initiatives. Donate an item for auction or bake a batch of cookies, then show up and buy something. It costs each family only a few dollars, but if everyone participates, it all adds up to major cash for your school.

Try to lose the guilt
Your school community understands that you might not be able to offer as much of your time as you’d like, assures Carrol Penton, principal of Hazelwood Elementary in St. John’s. “Keeping yourself informed and in touch, through the school’s website, newsletters and communication with your child’s teacher, goes a long way by providing behind-the-scenes support.” Supporting your own child at school is the best place to start.

Our expert panel
Carrol Penton, principal at Hazelwood Elementary in St. John’s

Linda Ford, principal at Truedell Public School in Kingston, Ont.

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