How We Do It and Why

One afternoon, as students lay on their tummies working on drawings or independent reading, parent volunteer Peter Kairoff, whose child was in my class, visited our room. He sat down unexpectedly at the piano and played a soft cascade of bird-like music by Scarlatti. The students absorbed the music as if they were bathing in enchantment, and carried on with their assignments, smiling. Those moments are frozen in time, for me.

I heard Peter in concert a few weeks ago. (Still amazing.) I asked him whether he remembered that day. He smiled broadly and replied “Oh, very clearly!” It was as rewarding for him to make that contribution as it was for us to receive it.

Volunteers are the lifeblood that sustains us here at ABS. Just today, Ms. Hollis reminded me of the time when a 6th grader kicked a ball up onto the unreachable roof of the middle school right at dismissal time, and his shoe flew along with the ball. A parent who was a roofer happened to be in the traffic line, equipment and all. He quickly pulled over and retrieved the shoe.

Last week, I noticed that the colorful sign on the front of our MLK building had miraculously been transformed from peeling and scruffy to fresh and brilliant. When we noticed the scruffy version, I emailed parent volunteer/artist John Blackburn and asked whether he could restore the sign he had created for us years ago. He cold-called some companies to find a fair price for scaffolding. He happened to reach out to Ebert Signs, where Wilson Ebert, upon learning that John was donating his work to the school, said that he was an ABS parent too. He volunteered to assist with what John describes as a “gi-normous lift truck” and the job was finished in one morning.

A few weeks ago, a flood of parents mowed and weeded and cut and cleaned our grounds, so they were transformed from the Covid-neglected, overgrown sleeping beauty thorn grove to familiar spaces and pathways.

Parents bring home costumes and packets and paper-cutting projects and computer-based jobs to work on. They cut trees and brush, they shower the teachers with gifts, they organize and staff the libraries. They donate their artistry, their skills, their supervisory presence. They create fundraisers, donate money, read with students, direct traffic, clean the basement, serve pizza, install new equipment, provide decorations, accompany students on field trips, and move theater sets.

Volunteering is woven into our culture. Our ABS school board is all volunteer, and the inaugural board members in the days of yore lifted and carried all of the furniture from our first location to the one we have now, tying a tumble of bookshelves and desks down in the backs of various pickup trucks and hauling them down the hallways. 

When you are a little, self-sufficient charter school, you rely on parent volunteers to help fill in the spaces. Our request of an hour per student, per week, is an opportunity for parents to contribute to the rich, familial atmosphere of our school. We know that some folks can’t fulfill that expectation, but we welcome those who can. We’re so grateful for folks who are able and willing to donate their volunteer time to us! 

So, how do you volunteer? How do you find out what and who needs your help? Read on!

(That old piano, by the way, is still in our MLK building. It is encrusted with mosaic representations of both the Italian and the Harlem Renaissance, and we still play it now and then.)