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Give back through volunteering

Volunteers from A Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church help students select books from the summer reading program in west Charlotte. The program is part of the church's volunteer outreach with Paw Creek Elementary School.
Volunteers from A Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church help students select books from the summer reading program in west Charlotte. The program is part of the church's volunteer outreach with Paw Creek Elementary School. Courtesy of Karen Bryant

Gordon Semeniuk was sitting in the stands – a typical parent, watching his son play a high school baseball game.

That’s when the public address announcer took exception with an umpire’s call. “The announcer made a remark about the umpire, and the ump threw him out,” Semeniuk recalls.

And that’s how Semeniuk’s volunteer gig as the announcer at Providence High School football and baseball games began. It was just a matter of stepping forward and volunteering, he says. “It felt like something I could do,” he says of the decision he made more than seven years ago.

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George Semeniuk announces a recent football game at Providence High School. Semeniuk's volunteer stint began at a baseball game, when another announcer was ejected by the umpire. Steve Lyttle

School officials and leaders of parent-teacher organizations are always asking for volunteer help. Usually, the conversation is about tutors, reading buddies and lunch buddies. And volunteers for those important roles are badly needed, officials say.

But there are many other volunteer opportunities available in the schools. “If you have an interest, there’s probably a way you can help,” says Karen Bryant.

Bryant has filled many of those roles in her five years as a volunteer at Paw Creek Elementary School in west Charlotte. She is among a dedicated group of retirees from A Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church that spends hundreds – maybe thousands – of volunteer hours each school year at Paw Creek.

Do you love the game of chess? There’s a school near you, waiting for a chess club to be started. Interested in sports? Many nearby schools would be eager to have your help as an assistant coach, a scorekeeper, or even a member of the “chain gang” during football games.

All it takes is to step forward, the volunteers say.

Bryant says she and some of the other volunteers at Paw Creek saw a need for a summer reading program, especially for residents of a mobile home park with a large number of lower-income families.

“So we started a summer reading program,” she says. “We got donations of books from our church, and we go out to the neighborhood every Tuesday for four weeks. “It’s a way for the kids to keep reading in the summer. And we have a lot of fun.”

Sometimes, volunteers’ work experience or hobbies are a perfect match for a club or activity. But there are also cases like Bryant, who worked as an X-ray technician and later as a customs broker before retiring.

School administrators stress that their greatest need is for tutors and “buddies” of students. Typically, these volunteers meet with students for an hour, once a week or every two weeks. These partnerships can build into friendships.

Ann Clark, who retired a few months ago as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent, recalls how a young boy she was tutoring became worried when he heard Clark was moving into retirement. Clark assured the youth that she would continue to be his buddy.

“There was no way I’d give that up,” she says.

Sometimes, volunteers say, it’s fun. Sometimes it’s work. And sometimes it’s both.

5 ways to get involved volunteering at schools

School is back in session and now is the time to reach out and find some inspiring educational roles you can play that will brighten your day and help children. Now is your chance to give back and find more meaning in your life.

1. Sports: Schools are often looking for coaches, scorekeepers and other help, including assistance with the care of athletic fields. This is especially the case with middle schools.

2. The arts: Middle and high schools have drama, music and other fine arts teachers, but help is often needed with concerts and theater productions.

3. Academic competitions: Would you like to pair your competitiveness with an ability in math, engineering, or social studies? Nearly all schools compete in events like Mathapalooza, Odyssey of the Mind and Geography Bee, and need coaches.

4. Interesting careers: Many schools are looking for volunteers to help with clubs – whether it’s chess, mathematics, meteorology, journalism or anything else.

5. Special hobbies: Do you collect stamps? Coins? Have an interest in history? Those might be clubs waiting to happen.

How to volunteer?

Just call or email the school where you want to volunteer. For a full listing of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, go to www.cms.k12.nc.us. But it’s the same story with the area’s private schools and public schools in neighboring counties.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools also have a Community Partnerships and Family Engagement department. Check for details at http://bit.ly/2xY3Gf6.

CMS and other nearby public schools will require volunteers to get registered, but this is an easy step that can be completed online.

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Two volunteers from A Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church in northwest Charlotte help a student navigate the lunch line in early September at Paw Creek Elementary School. Courtesy of Karen Bryant

Other Ways to Get Involved

Looking for some other ideas on how to volunteer in the community?

A treasure trove of volunteer activities is available at the Share Charlotte website. Share Charlotte is a clearinghouse for volunteer needs in the region. Just go to www.sharecharlotte.org.

Here are some ideas for volunteers over the next few months:

Special Olympics of Mecklenburg County’s Fall Games: The annual fall games will be Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. All types of help is needed, including scoring, staging, and awards. For details, check with the Special Olympics of North Carolina at http://www.sonc.net or 919-719-7662.

Thanksgiving dinners for low-income families, neighborhoods and the homeless: A number of these dinners are planned in November. Contact Perfect Provisions at www.perfectprovisions.org or 704-589-6312.

Jingle Bell Jaunt: This annual 5-kilometer run, a fundraising event for the Arthritis Foundation, takes place Dec. 9 in Charlotte. Help is needed with scoring, aid stations, and much more. Call 704-705-1798 or check www.arthritis-org/north-carolina.

– Steve Lyttle

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