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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.

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.

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