Did you know that PTAs are run by volunteers? From the local level to the National PTA board of directors, volunteers govern our PTA association. Have you ever wondered how you can get more involved in child advocacy or education-related work?
It starts by raising your hand and getting involved. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s taken me from my local unit all the way up to the national level. At each level, my skills and knowledge in PTA, nonprofit governance and leadership grew. Here’s my story:
I first became interested in PTA when my daughter entered kindergarten. Even though I was a Girl Scout leader and served on the board of directors for the preschool, I had never attended a PTA meeting in those first two years. However, at the end of the second year, I noticed that the PTA had a vacancy in the office of president. I figured that it was a great opportunity for me to grow my communication and people skills and serve others, especially children and families.
I was elected and decided to attend my state PTA’s summer leadership conference to learn more about PTA, as well as my duties and responsibilities. This became a defining moment in my PTA journey—I was in awe! More than 700 individuals were in attendance at the conference, all focused on a mission to better the lives of students and their families. I was able to network with other like-minded volunteers and learn from state leaders about the structure and history of PTA. I knew then that I wanted to be part of this movement where parents, families and educators work together to advocate for children and youth.
After two years as a local leader, I moved up to the council level, where I first served as the vice president and then president. It was at this time that I experienced how effective and important PTA’s advocacy efforts were in my county and throughout the state. While attending our elementary school PTA meeting, I learned that the school’s playground needed to be replaced. Our council worked tirelessly to present testimony to show the school board all the elementary school playground equipment and the disparities between the schools. Based on our efforts, the school board decided that the county would take on the expense of the playgrounds.
My leadership journey continued as I served as the first vice president and then president of Maryland PTA. There was a great deal to learn in running a nonprofit business with staff while managing local units and fulfilling the PTA mission. Working with staff was a new experience for me, with oversight and direction as well as hiring and firing. Part of the work also involved working with local units to talk about the PTA programs and learn about nonprofit governance. All of these experiences added to my skill set and cemented my passion for child advocacy.
It was while volunteering with Maryland PTA that I learned about National PTA’s advocacy efforts, nonprofit laws and business management. I remember attending my first Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, where I learned about the important issues and met our state legislators when we went to PTA day on the Hill. To this day, I am excited to attend the conference and am proud to participate in advocating on behalf of our members to the legislators. I believe this is an important part of our mission.
Two years after my term as president of Maryland PTA ended, I was elected to the National PTA board of directors, which I served on from 2009 to 2011. During that time, I gained a greater awareness of the diversity we have in our education system and how rural states operate.
I believe in PTA so much, that I am now on staff as a national service representative where I’ve been on staff for over three years.
My volunteer PTA leadership journey has offered many experiences and opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. Throughout the years, I’ve made many lifelong friends and gone on adventures that I would have never dreamed possible. I have been involved in important advocacy work for the children, families and educators fulfilling the mission of PTA. I treasure the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along my journey. I hope you take the opportunity to raise your hand, and start your own.
Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.