Tools for Schools! Studio Day! Celebrity Spelling Bee! At Schoolhouse Supplies the programs and events have names that are as colorful as the myriad of supplies that are collected and dispersed to Portland Public School students. After nearly a year of weekly volunteer duty I’ve found my service work there to be exciting, memorable and inspiring. As a retired ex-teacher and technical writer, I can’t think of a more appropriate way for me to “pay it forward” than to help the dedicated and industrious staff and crew of volunteers at Schoolhouse get millions of dollars worth of learning tools into the hands of kids who need them, and use them to prosper, create and succeed.
I started volunteering last summer when my sister-in-law Vicki, a longtime Schoolhouse volunteer, and my wife Judy told me that extra manpower was needed to stuff back packs for the Tools for Schools program. We spent long hours helping to stuff those packs with supplies, which were then ferried on pallets to students in need at various schools. This unique and innovative program matches student and teacher needs with area businesses who sponsor a school and provide free back-to-school backpacks filled with essential supplies to ensure that students begin their school year with valuable learning tools.
Paybacks were almost immediate for me. I have a good friend who teaches sixth grade in North Portland, and he called me right after a pallet of supplies was delivered to his classroom. “These kids were tingling with excitement all day,” he said. “When that pallet came in you could see their spirits rise. They took every item out of their new backpacks and spread it all out on their desks. You could see imagination and anticipation at work!” His enthusiasm was infectious. He asked me to tell the folks at Schoolhouse that their efforts were worthy and greatly appreciated. That was my introduction to this high-reward service work, and I’ve looked forward to my Thursday morning shifts ever since. I’m continually impressed by the variety and scope of the help that Schoolhouse is able to supply.
On The KGW School Supply Drive Studio Day, for instance, when we volunteers offloaded supplies by the carload and truckload into the KGW TV studio, it was heart warming to see how rapidly and steadily that cavernous studio filled up with boxes and barrels of supplies. Every kind of small business and corporate donor imaginable sent in deliveries, from dawn to dusk. As a newcomer to the drive, I could see a high level of camaraderie existed among Schoolhouse staff and donors, who’d been doing this kind of thing for years – there were always handshakes and knowing smiles: kids and teachers were being served, don’tcha know! Having served them, are we not in turn served ourselves? The answer was resoundingly, “Yeah, you bet!” All told, $333,872 worth of supplies and cash were collected just in that one drive.
The Celebrity Spelling Bee last winter was equally rewarding, but in a different way. Here, we were decorating the ballroom at the Portland Art Museum for a high society-type event that brought together donors and guests for an auction and entertainment that had world-class style and panache. Once again, teamwork and attention to detail was in high order, as dozens of dinner tables in the ballroom were decorated artfully and luxuriously. Nearly 400 guests raised over $200,000 that night, enjoying a silent auction and watching local celebrities compete through challenging rounds of spell offs. Once again, at the end of the night, guests, staff, and volunteers all shared that “secret smile” – a heck of a lot of work,but it all added up quickly for the purpose of providing more Portland school kids with much needed opportunities.
Some days when my back is aching and I’m dirty, sweaty and tired, I like to just step back from the long rows of brightly colored supplies, and keep a little smile to myself. I can look at freshly stocked reams of paper, for instance, packed on shelves like cordwood, and think to myself, “There’s gonna’ be some good grades from teachers posted on those papers someday soon.” That’s what keeps me coming back. That’s why I’m looking forward to my second year as a Schoolhouse volunteer.
Rob Winike is a former teacher and technical writer and current Schoolhouse Supplies volunteer.