Volunteers key to school efforts

Each year, volunteers contribute more than $2 million in volunteer time.

We have always valued community partners in the Forest Grove School District, but they are playing a bigger role than ever because of the deep budget cuts we've had to make.

Connie Potter, FGSD's Director of Communication and Partnership Development, has been even busier than usual, helping connect interested community members to volunteer opportunities, and proactively reaching out to find and develop new key partnerships with local businesses and interest groups. Here are some examples of how our community is impacting our schools today.

When the library media tech positions were eliminated in the elementary schools, volunteers stepped up to help keep those libraries open. Volunteers help students check out books and also reshelve them when the books are returned. The turnout at all the schools has been gratifying, and at Dilley, it's even been amazing. Dilley has 48 volunteers who signed up to help in the library this year.

When parents learned about cuts to the district's strings program, they immediately asked what they could do to help. The result was a community fundraiser that netted enough donations to continue strings instruction at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School and Neil Armstrong Middle School this year.

The district worked with parents and partners in the agricultural community to find a way to save the FFA program and some of the vocational classes that had been scheduled to be cut. We're working with other community partners in new and exciting ways.

A local church recently adopted Joseph Gale Elementary School and is working with the principal and teachers to provide anything they need, from lunch buddies, reading partners and supplies for weekend backpacks to classroom helpers and Fund Run volunteers. The church's youth group is even doing their own fundraising to provide an after school activity program they're planning to host every other Wednesday for Joseph Gale's special education students.

A group of community members organized Partnership Connections to help facilitate partnership building with the private sector, higher education, and local service organizations. They developed a website with a ton of resources about grants, youth enrichment opportunities and more. There's a link on the district website under the 'Partnerships' link.

The amount of volunteerism in our schools is pretty amazing. We have more than 1,500 registered volunteers. For each of the last four years, they have contributed the equivalent of more than $2 million in volunteer time. That's what it would have cost us if we had paid them salary and benefits for their time. They do everything from help in the classrooms to serve as 'Lunch Buddies' by eating lunch once a week with a student who could use a little extra adult attention. Every school has a volunteer coordinator who helps place volunteers in positions they enjoy and where they can make a difference.

Volunteers make so many things possible that just wouldn't happen otherwise. One example is Soar With Your Dreams, a career conference the district sponsors every year for students in grades 5-8. More than two dozen people donate their time to do hands-on career presentations, giving students a first-hand look at what their particular careers entail. It's a wonderful, inspiring day, and it happens only because so many people donate time and resources to make it happen.

There are many, many other partnerships in our district, and we're always cultivating more. We know and appreciate what a difference they make.

- Alisa Hampton is chair of the Forest Grove School District School Board of Directors.