‘I’m the appreciation chairperson’

Parent volunteer Melissa Kelley-Carey

Lowell Middle School parent volunteer Melissa Kelley-Carey, center, passes out candy hugs and gets a real one from Kyra Mears, left, and Jenna Taber

Melissa Kelley-Carey stood outside the middle school cafeteria with a basket of chocolates draped over her forearm. As hungry students filed past, lured by the scent of pizza, she held a piece out to a group of boys in jerseys and sneakers.

“Did you get a hug today?” she asked. “Have you had your hug yet?”

Kelley-Carey was offering the treats for be nice. day at the school, not hugs in the literal sense. But that didn’t mean she didn’t get or give her share of friendly embraces when asked.

It didn’t take long for students to line up for one of Melissa Kelley-Carey’s hugs

It was just one on a long, long list of tasks the parent volunteer happily performs at the school in the name of showing her appreciation: There’s the monthly decoration of the staff lounge. The creation and maintenance of a “give it, take it” swap for teachers. Contributing to meals during conferences, decorating and helping out at holiday events. Holding “guess how many” contests for students and staff. Scooping ice cream during fundraisers.

“My whole theory is I want to build community,” Kelley-Carey said. “I’m the appreciation chairperson. I do anything I can think of to let staff, students, parents and community members know that they are loved, appreciated and thought of.”

Being in the middle school so regularly is a bit of deja vu for Kelley-Carey, a 1990 Lowell graduate whose high school was the current middle school.

She and her husband, Jon — also a Lowell grad — have a son, Aidan, a sophomore at the high school; and daughter, Delaney, an eighth-grader.

“I wanted nothing more when I was young to get out of here,” she admitted. Kelley-Carey lived in Atlanta and in Virginia after high school, but “when I had kids I wanted to come back.”

Kelley-Carey has been on the PTO for five years, the last four as president. Before then, she said, she was still working full-time so she helped out when she could.

She insists that even the smallest amount of time is a big help, and that help doesn’t always come in the form of hours clocked.

“It doesn’t have to be time. Even being well-informed about what’s going on at school is a way to grow our community,” she said. “Even if it’s a bag of buns for the staff barbeque, things would run so much more smoothly if every parent did just one thing, especially for those of us who can do a ton.”

All in a day’s work for one Lowell Middle School volunteer
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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