By Nancy Covert
The sign fastened to Patti Field’s filing cabinet says it all (“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something“). That slogan has become her mantra during her tenure as Volunteer Coordinator for Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1.
Patti’s association with the district began almost 20 years ago.
“I started as a PTA volunteer,” Patti says, “when my daughter, Julie, was in first grade at Cherrydale Primary.” (1978)
When her daughter moved on to classes at Saltar’s Point, like so many parents before and since, Patti donated her skills there with the PTA.
Because there was no official PTA operating at Pioneer when Julie attended Pioneer, Patti, who had worked as a legal secretary in Oregon, instead volunteered in the office. This past fall, when the district’s volunteer office was relocated to Pioneer, Patti came full circle and returned there.
At the suggestion of then principal Varnie Alvarez, and former superintendent Steve Wilson, a core of volunteers was established.
“I opened my mouth,” Patti continues, “and was made volunteer coordinator.” That was in 1989, she recalls. It’s been 19 years. During that time the district’s volunteers have increased from about 63 to more than 900. That’s a ratio of 4 volunteers for each student. Their time investment from last June until February 2008, according to Patti’s records, has reached 13,533 hours of service. At the rate of $16/hr that translates to $216,528.
That’s almost 1/4 million; a huge benefit to the district; but it’s beyond price to the students.
While the district traditionally recognizes its volunteers each April, Patti says “They are not volunteering expecting to be thanked (although thanks always is appreciated) but because they want to.” That service is “very humbling”.
Chloe Clark Elementary School often has the most volunteer hours reported each month. At the March school board meeting, they reported about 900 hours of service.
The majority of the district’s volunteer work is done at elementary school level, Patti says. At the high school level parents contribute time toward sporting activities, field trips, scoreboard operation, and concession stands.
“It wouldn’t be a basketball game without veteran volunteer, Skip Lemming, who has operated the scoreboard for over 20 years”.
When it comes to volunteer longevity, however, some such as Stan Haskins, a reading tutor at Cherrydale, have given 20+ years of service to the district.
Because the district is relatively small in comparison to other districts, our volunteers have become like a family.
The common theme for the program’s success is that district volunteers “like being around kids”.
Staff members accept the people’s efforts as an extension of classroom learning.
The benefits work both ways, she says, enumerating them”
‚Ä¢ Military units have volunteered with reading, P. E., track meets
‚Ä¢ Business organizations, such as Farmers Insurance of DuPont, allow employees to help with the Reading Rockets program at Chloe;
‚Ä¢ Many volunteers who may have begun volunteering when their own children were in school continue to volunteer years after children have graduated.
‚Ä¢ Many district volunteers are retired (many from military services), but they enjoy working with children.
‚Ä¢ Many area businesses, such as Starbucks, the Frank Russell Company, etc., (60 last year) contribute to schools: not just money, but items such as Albertson’s floral decorations for the annual senior events
Volunteer Recruitment in the District takes place each Fall, Patti continues. That’s the busiest time for this part-time employee.
Patti thoroughly processes each applicant to be sure he/she meet the background check requirements. There have been a few cases wherein the applicant did not meet the qualifications. Parents can be assured that their children “are in good hands”
Not surprising in this close-knit community, Patti says she’s now seeing an increasing number of SHSD grads who have returned or remained in the community, beginning to volunteer in their children’s classes; a new generation of volunteers.
Receiving requests for information about how our program works has increased, Patti adds. In earlier years Patti communicated with volunteer coordinators in other districts to keep current with trends.
“Nowadays they mostly contact me to ask how our program is run! I even get requests from the East Side of state.”
As March was drawing to a close, Patti was focusing on April. That’s traditionally volunteer appreciation month in the district.
Each school hosts its own appreciation events. When the district was smaller, it would honor a district-wide Volunteer of the Year. Each month, the names of volunteer honorees are posted on the readerboards at Pioneer, District Office Chloe Clark, and the high school. They also are posted on the website. Take time to notice the newest honorees from our schools.
“Working with our volunteers is what makes me come to work every day.”
“It’s very rewarding to me to know that, in a small way, we are helping our kids,” Patti concludes.