Last night I was recognized for all of the time I have spent volunteering for my kids’ school. I was nominated by the principal and ended up being picked as the recipient for our family of schools. I knew this was a pretty big deal, but I had no idea just how big of a deal it was until I got there and they started speaking. I was excited just to be nominated but the experience of receiving the award and being at that meeting was amazing.
Rewind to a few years ago.
I moved to Hanover after leaving an abusive relationship of seven years. Reword that, I was running from an abusive relationship of seven years. I had tried to end it before but it never stuck. I always ended up back with him. This time I was determined to end it for good, so I moved back to my hometown – three hours away from where he had dragged me to live three years previously. Four months later he found me so I ran again.
I moved to Hanover because it felt far enough away from danger but close enough to family, so if I needed them they could get there. I went on a downward spiral. The feeling of finally being free and somewhat safe sent me down a bad road. I won’t get into the details but it wasn’t a phase that I’m proud of. Everything changed when I met my (now) spouse. He was kind, caring, loving, and handsome. In my mind I hit the jackpot. After meeting him I decided it was time to get my sh*t together and grow up – again. I needed to find my place in this new town and make a life for myself and my kids (and soon to be soulmate – little did I know). I didn’t have much of a teenage life so the couple months during my downward spiral was it, but now it was time to be an adult.
I searched for employment but would need child care. I searched for child care but it was way too expensive. I didn’t have my grade twelve diploma so I would only get paid minimum wage no matter what job I got, no matter what experience I had. I could feel myself getting lower and lower and I knew I needed to do something before I fell back into that downward spiral. My daughter had started her new school so I went early to pick her up one day and watched the other moms. Some of them seemed nice enough, some of them looked scary and some of them looked like barbies. I got nervous, my social anxiety started working it’s way out. I grabbed my daughter and headed home.
A couple years later, after my son started school and I got more comfortable in my new town I tried again. I started my daughter in kickboxing, hung out at the town parks, and forced myself to smile at every single person I came into contact with. I started feeling a little better and my social anxiety started to weaken. I was ready to try this at the school. I desperately wanted some real mom friends and to find my place. I wanted to figure out who I was and where I belonged. For some reason, the school felt like where I needed to be. I was just scared to be rejected or ignored.
You see, during that seven year long abusive relationship, I was controlled, spoken to as if I was lower than dirt, told that I couldn’t do anything right, beaten, and more. After a while I started to believe the things he told me. I believed that I couldn’t do anything right, that nothing I did would ever be good enough, that no one would ever want to be my friend because I was ugly, and so on. So moving to a new town, not knowing anyone, and trying to start over was miserably hard. But I tried.
When I got involved with the school it started with just saying hi to someone. I did this a lot, sometimes loudly, sometimes under my breath nervously. But this time I said “hi” to the right person. She stopped and spoke to me. She asked who my child was because she didn’t recognize me. Remember, I pretty much hid until my son started school so even though I had been here every day for three years already, no one noticed me. I explained that I’m not completely new to town but have still only been here just a couple years. She asked what I did for work and I was embarrassed to say that I was “just a stay at home mom”. My exact words were, “Well both of my kids are in school now but I’m too nervous to get a job so I’m just a stay at home mom.” She said, “JUST?! No, you are perfect! Have you ever volunteered for a school?” I had never even thought of it, I was just here to make friends, but I saw this as a chance to do just that!
I was introduced to the coordinator of the pizza program and that’s where it all started. I counted and rolled money once every week so the students could have pizza. When the coordinator left, I decided to take over. I became the coordinator for the pizza program because I found out that no one had stepped forward and the school was on the verge of losing the entire program. Pizza day was my favourite in school and it became my kids’ favourite too. I couldn’t let it slip away so I took it.
Since starting what I like to call my “volunteer career”, I have read to students, had students read to me, baked cookies and pies, cut and pasted crafts, prepared food, helped then ran the pizza program, helped with fundraisers, supervised two large-scale fundraisers, helped with Breakfast Club then took over and became coordinator for Breakfast Club, became a member of Parent Council and a few other things in between. I love spending time at the school and seeing the students. I won’t lie, some days I could rip my hair out and others I have come home bawling my eyes out over the stress. But every single day at that school has been a blessing to me. There are some students who give me a hug every time they see me, others give me a wink, one particular boy has confessed his unconditional love for me multiple times, a young girl updates me on her twin siblings each week and an entire class knows my youngest as “their classroom baby”.
I got involved with the school for a few different reasons. I wanted to see my kids through the day more, I wanted to know who their friends were, I wanted to meet the teachers and other staff, I wanted to get to know the principal, vice principal and office staff, but most of all I wanted to find my place. I wanted to find where I belonged, make new friends, figure out who I was and do something good with my life. I’m not sure what would have happened if I didn’t start volunteering, but I don’t think I would have been as happy as I am now. I know I wouldn’t have the amount of friends I have now and I probably wouldn’t have been able to cope with my social anxiety the way I can now.
Before becoming a regular volunteer, I thought parent council members were those uptight, perfect women. The ones with perfect hair, high heels, pant suits, and bright lip stick like you see in the movies. The truth is, those women are just like any other mom. At Parent Council meetings we laugh, tell funny stories, talk about our love of wine and somehow get some things planned for the school. We do a lot for our school, as do all Parent Councils. We aren’t perfect, we make mistakes. None of us have the time to do what we do but we get it done because we want the best for all the students at our school. And I absolutely love that I get to be a part of all of it.
At the School Board Meeting last night, they recognized a few volunteers who did exceptional work this year. They spoke about how much we have done for our school communities. When the board member who introduced me started talking about me, I cried. I couldn’t believe that everything I did was so appreciated. I knew this award was a big deal but I had no idea how big of a deal it really was. The principal of our school, who I’m glad to say is now my friend, attended the meeting with me and we cried together, hugging each other a few times between quiet tears. When they called me up to accept my award I tried to explain that I was thankful for being able to be part of the school and have the chance to turn my life around. I tried really hard to speak clearly but the words weren’t coming out properly between my tears. So I wanted to write this post to explain it all.
I need my school community to understand that while I’m thankful that they appreciate everything I do for them, they have no idea how thankful I am to be part of their lives. Being a volunteer at my kids’ school gave me a second chance to turn my life around and I thank every single person involved in my school community for letting me part of their life, their children’s lives, and their business life. It is an absolute honour to not only accept that award, but to have the chance to help make the lives of students better and more fun. By beginning my “Volunteer Career” I have found myself. I found a place where I feel comfortable and loved outside of home. A place where I can be my best self, meet new people and help my community. I found the person that I want to be, figured out who I am, and even found a paying career that I would like to pursue.
So if you haven’t already, volunteer at your kid’s school. You have no idea how good it is for the students and YOU. And go to a Parent Council meeting, they’re fun!