The school year is poised to begin, and once again the "help wanted" sign is out offering ample opportunity for parents, students and community members to lend a hand. At the most recent count, from the 2008-09 school year, the Pasco County school district had 24,708 registered volunteers who donated 363,578 hours of service.
The reasons to volunteer are endless. And so are the rewards; often twofold for parents, retirees and business community members, who know the good feeling that comes with giving a portion of time for the greater good.
For parents, the tradeoff of a few hours spent helping out in the classroom, the media center or the school office is an insider's view of their child's weekday world along with a closer connection with their child's teacher and the ability to leave the tangible impression with their child — and others — that yes, education is really important.
For retirees, it's an opportunity to spend some time being a surrogate for a child whose grandparents live elsewhere, or to share and keep sharp a learned skill or hobby, such as photography, computers, science, art or music.
For those in the business community, volunteering is a way to mentor the up and coming, help give essential skills to tomorrow's workers or perhaps simply provide special services to those in need, all while getting their own name out there.
For teens or college students, there's a chance to explore a future field working with children, learn what it might be like to have a little brother or sister, or get some experience in an environment — maybe the school office — that could help with employment now or down the road, all while racking up those essential volunteer hours.
Whatever, the reason, opportunities abound for those who want to join the volunteer forces:
• School opportunities include mentoring; tutoring; assisting classroom teachers; assisting in the library/media center, school office and cafeteria; and other areas as determined by the school administration. For information, contact the volunteer coordinator at the school of your choice.
• Retired Senior Volunteer Program is for volunteers 55 and over. RSVP matches the personal interests and skills of older Americans with opportunities to serve their communities. RSVP volunteers choose how and where they want to serve — from a few hours to more than 40 hours a week. Opportunities include tutoring children in reading and math, mentoring children, assisting teachers, supporting school-based student intervention programs and serving at Safety Town. An RSVP grant provides limited mileage, insurance and recognition. For information, call (813) 794-2207, (727) 774-2207 or (352) 524-2207.
• Take Stock in Children is an innovative approach to reducing Florida's dropout and teen crime rates. Those selected for this program are promised long-term support and the opportunity of receiving up to a four-year college education if they successfully meet the academic and social requirements. The recipients are chosen based on their self-motivation, determination and desire to be a value to society. They are economically disadvantaged and may have other "at-risk" factors. The long-term support promised to these scholars includes being assigned to an adult mentor. This program is school-based. Volunteers mentor a middle or high school student once weekly, some with a physical disability. For information, contact program coordinator Rosanne Heyser at (813) 794-2134 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Big Brothers Big Sisters provides an opportunity for adults and high school students to make a difference in the lives of elementary students. Volunteers in this school-based program meet with a child one hour, once a week, to help with homework, play games, make crafts or do basically whatever the volunteer and child enjoy doing together. It's really about building a friendship and having fun. To get started, contact Donna Gans at (727) 372-1458, ext. 204, or e-mail email@example.com.
Other ways to help
• The Pasco Education Foundation Inc.: This ongoing program provides scholarships for students and teachers. Community members are welcome to make philanthropic contributions or initiate new scholarships to help accomplish the goals of Pasco County's public schools. For information, call (352) 524-2705, (813) 794-2705, (727) 774-2705, or go to www.pascoeducation foundation.org.
• Recycle: Yes, something as simple as donating that used Capri Sun foil pouch, old cell phones or used batteries, or dumping old newspapers, cardboard, shredded paper, etc., in one of the Green Fiber dumpsters located at many Pasco schools can help raise funds for that particular school. Contact your local school first, to find what programs they participate in.
• Box tops for education: Many public and private schools participate in this program to raise funds for educational materials. Even if you don't have a child in school, consider taking a little time to cut out the specially marked box tops on General Mills products and drop them off at the school of your choice.