Forest Hills – Ada Elementary students were minutes from being dismissed for the day, but things were just starting to rev up in the teachers’ lounge.
A gaggle of volunteers worked with seemingly practiced ease to arrange and prepare to serve conference meals that included two kinds of ziti, salad, breadsticks, sausage and pasta in garlic wine sauce and something someone referred to as “million-dollar spaghetti squash.” The Italian-themed meal was for teachers, who had just enough time to say goodbye to their charges and grab a bite to eat before transitioning to conference mode.
In the center of the swirl of activity was PTO President Jamie Farber, aka “the PTO lady”, who had only been there for a few minutes and had already been stopped three times. She was asked about walk-a-thon donation envelopes and to sign checks for activities funded by the group. She answered a passing teacher, who asked if there was enough in the budget to send his class on their annual field trip before this school year is out.
“We’ve got it. Spend,” Farber told him before turning to a visitor. “For so long they couldn’t go because of COVID. We want to be funding these things again.”
The PTO Lady
Farber has been volunteering at Ada Elementary since the first of her four children, now a senior in high school (where she also volunteers), entered kindergarten. When her youngest, who is 3, leaves after fourth grade, Farber will have been a volunteer there for 19 years.
“My children have grown up here,” she said. “I have pictures of my son, who is in second grade, being held by different teachers (while she helped out in classrooms). My daughter, who is 3, knows there’s popsicles in the freezer here. She’s already decided on her favorite teacher and how to get to her classroom…We want people to know, you can volunteer with (your own) kids here.”
“We keep taking on more and more because we want the kids to have more experiences, but we need people to step up.”
Principal Melanie Hoeksema said Farber “pivots and adapts no matter the challenge. She’s a true treasure.”
Parking Lot Lady
Another volunteer who helped set up at the conference dinner – and who contributed two kinds of homemade baked ziti – was Kelly Lacey. She’s fast become known as “the parking lot lady.”
Lacey, whose son is in fourth grade, has helped at Ada Elementary since he started there. She’s done garden cleanup, decorates the entrance with the changing seasons and is a classroom parent and PTO member.
She stepped up again when school first resumed in-person learning last year after being shuttered due to the pandemic. She saw Hoeksema outside after dismissal directing the daily snaking line of parent vehicles.
“I rolled down my window and told her she should ask parents to do that,” Lacey recalled. “And you know what she did? Well, it was my idea.”
Now, “she’s our No. 1 traffic wrangler who compares the work to a great game of Tetris (the 1980s puzzle video game),” Hoeksema said.
Team Ada Needs Members
Both Farber and Lacey work full time, and both are regularly required to travel for their jobs, so they know what it’s like to juggle already packed schedules.
They encourage anyone in the district who can spare a day a week, an hour a month, or once a semester, to ask about the needs. It doesn’t matter the amount of hours someone can help, they insist there is a gamut of work that can be done.
“There’s cooking a dish for events like this,” Farber said before conferences began, “or helping out in classrooms… evening programs, (grocery) receipts that have to be cataloged, managing our online signup forms, doing crafts at home, stuff for staff appreciation week … It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment.”
Added Lacey: “It’s a great school. We’ve got wonderful teachers, wonderful families, wonderful volunteers, but we can always use more. With 2020, we lost a lot of volunteers, and others (children) aged out, so we’re just trying to get more people involved.”