Tennessee may be the volunteer state, but here in Utah, we have a strong history of coming together to help one another.
For many years, Utahns have led the nation in volunteering, and this year is no different, according to research by Volunteering and Civic Life in America. Here in the Canyon School District, we also have a strong corps of volunteers, and we’re constantly grateful for those members of our community who give the gift of time to our schools.
On the latest episode of Connect Canyons, we hear from two Canyons volunteers who have been working with students and schools for many years and all across the district. They share the positive impact they have seen inside classrooms and how volunteering has helped their families and themselves grow.
“I find it to be very rewarding,” says Canyons Board of Education member Nancy Tingey. “To me, volunteering is about community. It’s about belonging. It’s about serving.”
Tingey has been volunteering in schools for roughly 30 years and says she got started volunteering when her oldest child began kindergarten. “I like to say I went back to school when he did, and I’ve been able to be a part of schools in some capacity pretty much every school year since then.”
A three-term Board member, Tingey was the first woman to serve as Board President. She also served as President of the Utah School Boards Association but has continually found time to volunteer in classrooms.
Rebecca Martin has been volunteering in schools for the past 15 years and is this year’s Apex Award winner for Volunteer of the Year. Currently, she is the Parent Student Association President at Hillcrest High.
Martin says it was her children who got her involved, too. She started volunteering in their classroom, and helping with classroom parties. “For me, it’s about community and connection, like Nancy said,” says Martin. “Be part of a community and help others feel part of the community. Then as we work together toward the common goal that we all want our children to have a positive experience in the classroom, then we’re making connections with each other.”
Rebecca has been active in the PTA, which is the preferred parent teacher organization for the District. She says it’s a good way for parents to not only be involved in their children’s schools, but to also know what is going on in the schools. “You have an opportunity to ask any question you want face-to-face, and get answers,” she says, “and that’s a great opportunity for parents that I don’t think they realize is there.”
Tingey is involved with the District’s school community councils, which are similar to PTA but involve parents, teachers, and administrators who are given a statutory role by the state legislature. “They help create and develop a school improvement plan,” says Tingey, “and they’re given money which is distributed from the state that they can spend at their school.”
But the PTA and SCC aren’t the only pathways to involvement. Both Tingey and Martin agree, regardless of how much time a parent has to volunteer with their child’s school, there are options for everyone.
Tingey recalls a time when the SCC organized for volunteers to spend a few minutes with students, showing them flashcards to help them learn math. “Every year there are students who struggle with one class or another,” Tingey says, “and when you see them accomplish things and meet their goals they are so excited. I think that’s going to set up a foundation for them and who knows where that trajectory will take them.”
One of the poignant moments that stood out for Martin over the years was helping a teacher apply for a grant which would give the school enough funds to put on a production of “The Little Prince.” After the production, the roughly 50 students involved wrote thank you notes to the PTA. “One of them said, ‘this changed my life. I was in a really bad place. I didn’t want to come to school. My life was falling apart, and this play made me come to school and gave me something to live for,’” recalls Martin. “It’s moments like that, just a little bit of paperwork but I was able to have a little part in changing that student’s life.”
Whether you want to join your school’s PTA or SCC, or only have time for a few hours a week, Tingey and Martin suggest starting with your child’s teacher to see if they even have projects you can work on from home.
“Schools are beautiful because they will accept whatever you can give,” Martin says. “I just saw recently, one of our elementary schools said they need someone to help with kindergarten projects, cutting out paper.”
Regardless of how much time you’re able to spend volunteering, Tingey says it is a way to come together with your children and your community for a common purpose of supporting children.
“There’s something that feeds the soul,” says Tingey. “It brings to mind a word in the Tongan language, Fetokoni’aki, it means we are here to help each other. That has been just one of my core values and beliefs, and a guiding principle in my life. I’m grateful because of not only the enjoyable experiences and the rewarding time spent with wonderful people, I feel like I have grown and become a better person because of my opportunity to work and associate with people in education.”
For more information on how to volunteer with the district, click here.