Fathers have long been valued as school volunteers because of their sports knowledge and Mr. Fix-It talents. Yet Mary Caffrey, a veteran of more than 30 years in diocesan Catholic schools, observed that dads are not so easily typecast in this day and age.
"Mothers used to be the people available during the day. Home School Associations were often called ‘Mother’s Club.’ That has changed with the economic necessity of mothers working outside the home," said Caffrey, principal of St. John Bosco School in Seneca Falls.
For instance, Caffrey said that while she was at Holy Trinity School in Webster, there was a room father for each class as well as a room mother. Several other diocesan principals offered further examples of active classroom participation by dads:
* At Elmira’s Holy Family Primary School, dads come in to share information about their careers. They also serve as "Happy Helpers" who lend a hand when teachers and secretaries take breaks; serve pizza; and make and deliver hot dogs. "The majority of the helpers are moms, but we do have a few dads who are very dedicated and come every week," said Bernadette McClelland, principal.
* At St. Michael School in Penn Yan, "the fathers are very active in the life of the school," reported Jim Tette, principal. He said dads support St. Michael by coordinating fundraising events, serving hot lunches and chaperoning field trips.
* At St. Rita School in Webster, "Our end-of-year Blue/Gold Field Day has many fathers cooking and running games," said Mercy Sister Katherine Ann Rappl, principal. She noted that fathers also read to kindergarten students for "Donuts with Dad Day."
Dads still make substantial contributions outside school hours as well.
"We get great support from our fathers on things like setup for the festival or the barbecues, or in breaking down the gym after an event," Caffrey said, adding, "I would like to think that we are equal-opportunity volunteer organizations, and am happy to welcome helpers of any gender to help with our school."
Handiwork continues to be a cornerstone of fatherly involvement: Sister Rappl said fathers built the St. Rita playground and renovated an on-campus barn now used by the school. And Joseph Holleran, principal of St. Lawrence School in Greece, said his school’s facilities committee is made up almost entirely of fathers who perform repairs, painting, etc.
"I believe almost all dads would love the opportunity to volunteer in some way in their children’s school," Holleran said.
That love is displayed through the Fathers’ Club at St. Patrick School in Owego.
"The only ‘dues’ are a willingness to lend a hand where needed," said Dan Martin, who serves as club copresident along with Joe Higgins.
Martin said the Fathers’ Club concentrates on technology funding and buildings-and-grounds matters. Among its notable works are a small shed with a drop box the club built for its ongoing can drive, Nickels for Knowledge. The club also spearheads the annual Jack Frost Chicken BBQ, coming up on Feb. 10, for which a whopping 1,200 chicken dinners are expected to be sold. Other events aided by the Fathers’ Club are Make a Difference Day, Catholic Schools Week lunches, and Fall Festival setup and cleanup.
Back in Monroe County, Gary Rigoni represents a one-man Fathers’ Club of sorts. At more than one school, he has been the top person for the principal to call for such needs as building and maintenance of facilities, painting, and moving furniture. He also has served as a Catholic Youth Organization coach and on boards and committees. Rigoni’s involvement has gone from the former St. Helen School in Gates, which all five of his children attended, to Brighton’s All Saints Academy and Our Lady of Mercy High School currently. Just for good measure, Rigoni takes on similar duties at his parish, St. Jude the Apostle in Gates.
"He is basically a full-time volunteer," remarked Rigoni’s wife, Renee. "When someone asks him how much he was paid to do this or that, we’ll jokingly respond that his reward in heaven will be great."
Rigoni said many other fathers such as himself are dedicated to Catholic schools, citing sports programs as an example.
"It takes a lot of them to make this happen," he said. "Guys get out of work and rush down to the ballpark so they can get to the softball game."
Rigoni said his volunteerism is rooted in his desire not only to support Catholic schools, but also have a connection with his own children as well as others.
"It’s just rewarding to know all these kids, and feel like you were a part of their life growing up," he said.