Volunteers lauded for helping make Catholic schools a success
You won’t find them on the payroll, but a small army of people are “crucial to the successful operation of our Catholic schools,” according to Anthony S. Cook III, diocesan superintendent.
They are the adult volunteers — family members and retired teachers, among others — who offer their time, talent and enthusiasm to their school communities.
“To say that our Catholic school runs on volunteerism is no exaggeration,” remarked Mary Mantelli, principal of Geneva’s St. Francis de Sales-St. Stephen School.
Echoing that sentiment is T.J. Verzillo, principal of All Saints Academy in Corning, who asserted that volunteer involvement “is the main reason we are able to succeed as a school.”
Cook pointed out that all those volunteering in schools of the Rochester Diocese must undergo criminal background checks; read and sign a volunteer code of conduct; and undergo Creating a Safe Environment training. Once those requirements are fulfilled, volunteers step up in a variety of ways with commitment Cook calls “inspirational.”
Verzillo noted, for example, that parents at All Saints pitch in at lunchtime and during recess; serve each classroom as “homeroom parents” helping to organize other parents’ assistance with field trips, parties and fundraisers; lead fundraising and “fun-raiser” events through the Parent-School Association; assist in the main office; and lend their electrical and plumbing expertise.
At St. Francis-St. Stephen, Mantelli said volunteer support is invaluable in staging annual events such as the school’s golf tournament, Mardi Gras dinner/auction and Family Fun Festival. Other volunteers focus on the school’s ongoing beautification project; lend assistance in the classrooms and cafeteria; and plan events through the Parent Teacher Organization.
St. Pius Tenth School in Chili likewise is bolstered by a Parent Association that takes responsibility for staging numerous extracurricular activities.
“It’s a great group of dedicated parent volunteers, easily over a dozen parents who either plan the event or help out,” remarked Daniel Pitnell, principal.
Whereas St. Pius Tenth’s parents play crucial roles with after-school activities, Jackie Senecal, principal of Rochester’s St. Ambrose Academy, relies on a core group of volunteers to assist during the school day.
“They all come in and volunteer in such ways like doing enrichment projects with students, reading to them and helping them stay focused during class instruction,” she said.
Meanwhile, Pittsford’s St. Louis School relies on parents and family members of students to assist with lunch monitoring, “room parent” responsibilities, classroom events, field-trip chaperoning, and hot-lunch distribution. In addition, the school’s Student Activities Committee is made up solely of volunteers who help with fundraising, marketing, public relations, hot-lunch organizing, and positive staff morale.
“Parent and family volunteers are an integral part of our mission,” said Fran Barr, principal of St. Louis.
Two such integral volunteers at St. Joseph School in Penfield are Jennifer Gearinger and Claudia Reyda who Principal Amy Johnson noted lead the school’s “Faith Committee.” They design a faith-themed themed bulletin board and guide other parents who devise and lead faith-based crafts in every classroom, employing the 2018-19 theme of “Fruits of the Spirit.”
“They have done amazing things in our school,” Johnson said of her Faith Committee leaders.
Similarly high praise is offered by Tom Flood, principal of St. Michael School in Penn Yan, who highlighted the commitment of Elizabeth Castner. She has served as the volunteer librarian for many years and is involved in a number of other school initiatives.
“If you need something, she’s always there,” said Flood, who added that Castner is one of many loyal St. Michael volunteers; others help in the areas of tutoring, lunch, recess, field trips and special events.
Some parents continue in their volunteer roles at Catholic schools even after their children have moved on. Terri Morgan, principal of St. Kateri School in Irondequoit, noted the dedication of several such volunteers whose duties include stuffing envelopes on Wednesday mornings and running the annual Holiday Gift Shop, doing so not only to help the school but also to stay in touch with each other.
“I really think this is another way to keep connected with the St. Kateri family. As their children have attended and they have formed friendships, these friendships do not end and only grow deeper,” Morgan said.
Mary Ellen Wagner, principal of St. Rita School in Webster, similarly noted that retired teachers Maureen Morehouse and JoAnn Campbell remain very active as volunteers. Their duties include assisting in the library; organizing and running book fairs; spearheading the geography bee; conducting after-school STEM (science, technology, education and math) and robotics workshops; providing tech support; and overseeing the school’s website.
Wagner noted that all volunteers are valued members of the school staff and have “a strong sense of belonging.”
“We want to make sure our volunteers are still very much a part of our school community, and we make known our appreciation for them,” she said.