Go from Zero to Hero by becoming a volunteer at your kid’s school!

The day my daughter brought a flyer home in her backpack encouraging parents to volunteer at her school, I immediately launched into panic mode. Between my full-time job and taking care of our household, I barely had enough time to remove my makeup before bed. I was lucky if my kid wore matching socks. In fact, just the other day I had actually contemplated dressing her for school the night before to save time. I did the only thing I could think of, I ignored the flyer.

Then came the email in the form of a friendly reminder about the flyer that clearly many of us had ignored. The email listed all of the ways we could lend a hand, including: chaperoning a class trip which was out because it was doing the work day, directing the kids in an art project that would be auctioned off at the school’s gala (unless they planned to make ashtrays I wasn’t going to be much help here) or do an in-class cooking project with the children (obviously, they were unaware I had burned popcorn so many times in the office microwave I was no longer permitted to make it). Even if I found the time, what skill could I possibly share with these children? Certainly, they deserved better.

The guilt set in. Every day at drop-off I avoided looking the teachers in the eye for fear my friendliness might be construed for my willingness to help in areas I was totally unsuited for. I hoped they would continue to be kind to our daughter. Soon after, my kid starting coming home with tales of OPM’s (Other People’s Mothers) coming to school to make fruit smoothies, teach yoga and help make costumes for the school play.

“Why don’t you ever come to school, Mommy”? my kid asking somewhat innocently although I did detect some slight smugness. “Um, well, because I work”, I said weakly. “Some of the other mommies work too. Today we all took a trip to the courthouse where one of them works”. Great, I was doomed. How could I tell my own flesh and blood that I couldn’t think of any skills to parlay into a teaching moment for her and her classmates? Yes, after attending private school followed by a prestigious college and being hired for an executive position at one of the top non-profits in the country, when it came to sharing my wisdom with a bunch of thumb suckers I had nothing to offer.

I felt like a fraud.

One afternoon my cell phone rang and without thinking I answered it even though there was no caller ID. This my friends, is the Russian Roulette of my generation. “ Hello, is this Mrs. Powers”? said a nervous woman on the other end of the line. “Damn! A cold call, why me?” I thought to myself. “Yes” I replied glumly. “I’m calling from your daughter’s school,” the voice said. “Is she okay”? I panicked. “Oh, yes. I’m sure she’s just fine although I don’t really know because I’ve never met her.” Now, I was confused.

The woman continued, “I have a child at the school also and I was calling to follow up on the letter I sent you asking you to contribute to the school’s endowment fund.” “What I relief, I thought. “My kid is okay, at least we think she is, they are not asking me to volunteer and all they want is money that we were planning on giving anyway.” This was my lucky day. “Yes, we definitely plan to support the campaign again this year.” I said relieved- almost giddy. “Oh great,” she said delighted not to be turned down and then after a few seconds of silence she said, “Um, thank you then, have a good day” and hung up.

Once I got over the relief I wasn’t being recruited for classroom duty, it dawned me on that I could volunteer the way this women had. I could call people and ask them for money. In fact, that was how I’d made a living for the past decade and I was damn good at it.

I had been so busy thinking about what I could do for my daughter’s classmates it never dawned on me that my professional skills could take me from zero to hero in the eyes of the school administration. So if you find yourself stumped as to what skills you can offer your child’s class, it’s a good idea to make a list of your skills and your contacts and think outside the box.

Are you a fundraiser? Volunteer to call other parents and encourage them to contribute to the school’s annual giving. You can set your own hours, many times you can choose who you call and you’re raising critical funds. Are you an accountant or money manager? Offer to review the school budget or give a talk to parents and students on how to save for college. Do you work in an environment that kids would find interesting like a laboratory, museum or hospital? Arrange for your child’s class to take a tour. Are you an interior decorator or architect? Donate old fabric swatches or materials to the art department. Or see if your school collects recyclables for art projects.

Become a School Volunteer, and go from zero to hero!

Do you or your family do community service? Plan a service day for the class or visit the class and share your experience. Do you love to read? Donate old books to the school library or book fair. There are lots of things you can do to help out if you really give it some thought. In fact, I’ve become so good at thinking up ways to help that believe or not I’m now the Class Mom!

Jenny Powers is the Founder of Running With Heels, New York’s premier networking society for working women. She’s also the Chief Broad of the award-winning podcastBroadCast:Broads Building Businesses, the weekly show for and about women entrepreneurs. Her favorite role is being mother to The Goose, a six year old girl who plans to one day be the President of the United States and relocate the White House to Brooklyn.