PTA: A Call to Service

Posted by on Jan 19, 2016 in Blog | No Comments

This post was originally published on the National PTA blog Monday, January 19, 2009


It was a long drive from Chicago to Washington DC yesterday, leaving plenty of time to ponder the historic moment that is now just hours away – and for those of us not behind the steering wheel, there was plenty of time for reading, too. It seemed appropriate to bring my book of great 20th century speeches along on this road trip, and when we passed through Trumbull County in Ohio, I found myself flipping to an address from one of Trumbull’s sons, Clarence Darrow. Darrow was a well-known attorney in my hometown of Chicago nearly a century ago, and it was one of his closing arguments that was reprinted in this anthology. One particular passage from this 1926 courtroom speech struck me as perfect prelude to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the commitment to community service that has become inseparable from this national holiday:

“Every human being’s life in this world is inevitably mixed with every other life and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless the people we meet are kindly and decent and human and liberty-loving then there is no liberty. Freedom comes from human beings, rather from laws and institutions.”

Since my plans for today involved sightseeing, spending time with friends, and taking in all things inaugural, I found a community volunteering opportunity to participate in before I left Chicago. In fact, it was my alderman who invited me (and everyone else in his ward) to volunteer at an elementary school in the area. Much to my pleasant surprise, the response was overwhelming. The school had dozens and dozens of volunteers show up on a Saturday morning to work in the library, paint murals in the hallway, and work on art projects for (and with) students. I only wish that every school was as lucky as this one. But, really, it’s not a matter of luck. It’s simply a matter of asking people to take part in the life of the schools around them, regardless of whether they have children in their classrooms. I probably would not have known about this chance to volunteer if my alderman hadn’t asked me to pitch in.

PTA is world renowned for it’s incredible parent volunteers, and deservedly so. But even with over 5.3 million members, there’s no shortage of work that still needs to be done on behalf of children. There are thousands of schools in this country, many with needs that go unmet: related to arts instruction, access to regular recess, or properly maintained facilities – all things that volunteers can help provide, all things that people from the community would be willing to give if only they were asked. President-elect Barack Obama is calling Americans back to a life of service, asking all of us to participate more fully in the lives of our fellow countrymen and neighbors. I hope more than a few PTAs will follow his lead and ask the people in their communities to join them. This is a unique moment in our shared history – let’s make the most of it.

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