Fun and Fundraising – Things I’ve Learned about Myself by Joining the PTA

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ptaAs the parent of both an elementary and a middle school student, I have been carefully juggling my time between work and family for several years. And it has been a struggle.

By default, growing up and through college, I would be the person to volunteer to take on new activities. To help with a blood drive. To organize a study group. Whatever was needed, I was often volunteering to help.

Because I tended to say yes when someone was looking for volunteers, a friend of mine had an intervention when I got my first job. She gave me a deck of cards on 52 ways to say no. She knew that without some encouragement I would spread myself too thin and probably lose my mind.

So ever since then, I have always tried to be selective in which activities I commit to doing. I ask myself many questions to decide when to say yes, like “Is what I am doing using my specific skill set?” or “Will it allow me to spend more time with my kids?” “Will it win me brownie points with my boss?” or “Will it help me gain a new skill that I want and will benefit from gaining?” And at the end of each of these sets of questions, I always ask, “Will I need to give something up to let me do this new thing?”

I know this seems like a lot of talking to myself, but I am trying to remember to make sure that volunteering aligns with one of my major priorities and my core values.

So over the years, I have been a classroom parent, I have served on the board of the preschool my kids attended, and whenever there was an option to help spread the love of STEM, I was always standing at the front of the line. I got excited about reviving the Girl Scout Troop at my kid’s school, and I recently started volunteering on the PTA board.

And what has been awesome is that in each of these activities, I got to meet awesome, smart, and engaged parents that have, in their own ways and times, been those that jump up and volunteer. I have discovered a great group of friends who not only know how to plan a holiday show but that will be the first to set up a food train to support a family in need.

In my strategic decision-making over the years, I missed out on letting myself use the social and fun part of volunteering to find some new mom friends. People who get me, who are energized to make a difference in our small little corner of the world, and that I can rely on to make things happen.

The people I have volunteered with on the PTA are great role models for my kids. They are great support networks when stressors or health emergencies hit. And their kids can commiserate with mine about all the ways we run around town or have evening meetings for our own obligations, and not just to make sure that they are getting to their after-school activities.

The volunteers I have met through the PTA are doing the hard and thankless work that helps make it fun to be part of a school community. They are modeling how to deal with the push and pull of our crazy schedules. They tend to know how to work hard and play hard. They are helping make the world a better place, and I am so thankful that I have gotten to know them. And I can say I am happy to have found my people.

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.

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