Volunteer For Your Child

The greatest responsibility an adult has is raising a child.

-Stephen Toumi

volunteeringIf that is truly the case, then why don’t more parents volunteer and support their children in their endeavors? Now this isn’t directed at one individual, but the masses, as I would guess a majority of parents don’t volunteer to coach their child’s team or work in the classroom or take a leadership role in scouting. These are just a few examples brought forth in this piece. Why though? Why don’t you take a vested interest in your child and pass along that knowledge and experience you have gained over your life on Earth?

To understand why, I think we need to explore the why not. First, it’s easier. “Let someone else coach my kid” or “I don’t want to participate in scouting” better yet, “PTA? Serious that’s for that’s for the hoity toity moms, not me.” Bottom line, too many people take a negative stand when it comes to volunteering as it relates to their child.

Why wouldn’t you want to be involved? It’s a great feeling passing along first hand knowledge to children who are ready to soak it up like a sponge and ask for more. For me, taking on the role of a Den Leader has been a big challenge, one which I didn’t think I was ready for, but wish I would have taken a year earlier. There is something to be said about leading a group of boys, eager to learn and be involved with each other. Scouting has put a new perspective on volunteering for me. That “one hour a week” is really more like 3 to 4 hours depending on what is on the scouting agenda. From camping trips to hikes to den and pack meetings, my role as Den Leader, as well as Quartermaster for the pack have kept me very busy over the last 2 years, but I don’t regret for one minute stepping forward to get involved.

If scouting for either boys or girls isn’t your thing and you take an interest in sports then step up and take on the role of coach or manager. Much like scouting, it’s a very rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to manager baseball for 2 years and more so than scouting it had a bigger impact on me, as a person and as a coach. Why? As a youth I recall coaches I had growing up and there was always one, Keith Voigt, who sticks out in my mind as a coach I wanted to emulate. At age 10, I thought he was a baseball God, when it came to what he know and how he coached our team. I might know have known it then, but years later, standing on the diamond teaching a lesson to my wide-eyed ballplayers I now understand the reaosn why Coach Voigt was so passionate about the game he loved. Al Price of Big Al Baseball only reinforced that line of think when he said, “you develop the player and the person.” That’s so true when it comes to children, sports and life in general.

By far the biggest eye opening experience is being involved in the PTA. Growing up my mom was a big PTA support, sat on a few boards if memory serves me correct and was a regular parent volunteer in the classroom. As a parent, I knew no other way to be involved with your child and see them grow an flourish. Little did I know that reality is quite jaded, as many parents don’t seem to give a shit about further their child’s development or that of the school by being involved in PTA. Harsh? Probably, but it’s warranted, at least in my case.

Since my son walked through the doors and into kindergarten with Mrs. Gaul, I have been fully committed to his education and supporting the school. Why wouldn’t you want to be? Teachers at his school are absolutely amazing! Now if they were only paid justly for their duties and responsibilities, everyone would benefit! Why was I involved? Going back to my mom, I knew no other way. Volunteering in the classroom, paying my $10 PTA dues (you would be amazed at the number of parents who can’t come up with $10, but send their kids a lunch bag full of crap to eat, I am sure some how, some way you CAN come up with $10 to support your child AND the PTA.)

Going on my 6th year of elementary school, five of which I have served on the executive board, the support of parents or should I say lack of, never ceases to amaze me. You always see the same handful of parents stepping up to volunteer in class, going on field trips or work a PTA sponsored event. Why? Are you really THAT busy as a parent you can’t give your child a few hours of your time? Yeah, okay I hear you. You work, guess what, SO DO I! Eight hours a day, five days a week with a two hour round trip commute. Yet I still find time to pick my child up, talk to them and support them in their school functions and extracurricular activities. What’s your excuse now?

Until my son says he doesn’t want my support at school, I will continue to invest my time and make an effort to better his education by being involved. Actually, this year he told me he didn’t want me working in his 5th grade classroom, so I respected his decision and have yet to work a day in his class.

“Students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have fewer behavioral problems and better academic performance, and are more likely to complete high school than students whose parents are not involved in their school. Positive effects of parental involvement have been demonstrated at both the elementary and secondary levels across several studies, with the largest effects often occurring at the elementary level. Research shows that students perform better in school if their fathers as well as their mothers are involved, regardless of whether the father lives with the student or not.” (source)

To this day, I know of only one other day, I have met who has been as involved with his children, as I have with mine. He is an amazing dad, who has gone through a lot of pain and bad situations, but has raised two outstanding kids. So dads, what’s your excuse? The only time I have seen dads involve at our school is the PTA sponsored, father/daughter dance. Then again, all their dad has to do is show up. Really, it’s that simple. Outside of that, I have a really hard time identifying with any other dads who participate on a regular basis. Oh, that’s right, you are the moneymaker, you work and can’t help out at school or spend $10 to join the PTA. My mistake, guess I was looking for real men who care about their child, want to be involved and actively be part of their child’s developmental years.

Regardless of the “why” I still find volunteering and being involved a rewarding experience, one that no one can take away from me. I can honestly say I have had a great time over the last 6 years seeing my grow, thanks in part to the great teachers, leaders and coaches he has had. Parenting, like employment is a full time job, why don’t you look at working some overtime and volunteer for your child. Seeing a smile on their face is reward enough.

2014 6th Fright

haunted_failureI’ve had a few days to reflect on the 2014 6th Fright this year, which was the centerpiece of the Vintage Parkway Elementary School Harvest Carnival. It took place this past Friday from 6pm to 8pm. Overall, I would say guests through the haunted were pleased with their experience. Me on the other hand walked away a bit discouraged and frustrated with the lack coordination and help, as volunteers were few and far between.

After nearly 3 weeks of our time and effort, Mark and I were excited to put the finishing touches on the haunt and open the doors to make sure everyone could get an opportunity to experience the 6th Fright. I arrived 2.5 hours early in order to set up the queue and ticket table and do some finishing touches inside. Everything was moving forward as planned and Mark arrived a few minutes later and started in on the checklist of things we had to finish.

One by one teachers brought me their permission slips for the kids who signed up to participate in the haunt. Mark had enlisted the help of another dad, Steve, who we used inside the haunt operate one of the drop panels. One by one we had teenage kids roll up saying they were supposed to help.

Thankfully Mark and I completed our listed and checked out the lighting, props and sound. Everything was in order and we were excited and ready to go, so we thought. Leading up to this day we were in need of 6 adults to help the haunt be successful. Mark and I were already going to be inside and two other adults would be required, one to operate the other drop panel and another to be dressed up as an insane clown. The other two adults would take tickets and coordinate the guides with a group every 1 minute, moving them into the haunt.

As the clock ticked closer to 6pm, we still had no adults helpers and my frustration level began to rise. Sometime between last Harvest Carnival and this year something was lost. It was the organization of Susan, a 5th grade teacher last year who coordinated the efforts for the guides and scarers. Now that she is a 4th grade teacher, we missed that coordination piece. That responsibility, unbeknownst to us feel on our shoulders, yet we didn’t think anything off it until it was too late.

As usual with PTA events such as this volunteers are few and far between. It’s sad that parents seem to have no time for their kids or don’t want to volunteer for varies reasons. In fact I heard a complaint from a parent who was upset because their child was there to be a scarer and was not being used. You know what? Maybe if you volunteered we wouldn’t of had this problem. As it was, 6:20pm rolled around and I had still not opened the haunt, Mark and I were not even in our costumes.

Finally we had two teenage girls walk up, the queue was already full and the looks of frustration were on some of the parents faces. I gave the girls a quick run down of what they needed to do, which wasn’t difficult but something was lost in translation. The haunt finally opened about 30 minutes late.

Thankfully Kim, from the office staff came up to the front and I attempted to give her a run down on what we needed. So now our teenage girls (both of them) were taking tickets and counting people, Kim did her best to manage a growing group of 5th graders, some I am sure who never got to scare or guide because of the lack of organization and confusion at 6pm.  Mark and I were very thankfully Kim came up and did her best to manage the situation, which by this time was not going according to plan.

Inside the haunt, I only used two 5th graders as opposed to the five I had planned. One of the teenage females, who was dressed in costume took control of the other drop window, which didn’t please me but we needed a body. Her lack of enthusiasm and failure to follow directions didn’t help the situation. In fact she cut out before the haunt was over when her drop panel broke. Again, more frustration on the night.

All was not lost, the haunt seemed to be very well received by everyone who went through it. We had some very positive comments, as well as a lots of screaming from kids through out the twisting, turning corridors. The best comments of the night came after the haunt was over and two moms said they had never seen so many kids come out of the exit crying. That alone made Mark and I feel we put together a successful haunt for the Harvest Carnival.

I only had to escort one group of 3 girls (5th graders) out of the haunt as they came running around the corner and nearly took out two walls to the dot room, while rolling into the sheet. It was unnecessary and walked them to the emergency exit and told them not to return. Aside from that incident no other kids were tossed out, but I can confirm the crying. Lots of kids inside were scared, which is great because that was part of the goal of a haunted house, to scare you.

We had one equipment failure, as I eluded to earlier with the drop panel. We had built the window using two and three inch screws. The gate latch, which was screwed to the actually panel that dropped to the ground sheared off, requiring he actor to hold the panel up in place before dropping it. Unfortunately the actor running that window cut out without my knowledge leaving the window open for probably the last 30 minutes of the haunt. Very discouraging to see when I would walk through the haunt, back to the entrance to escort new scarers into position.

I had planned for a better turn over of guests through the haunt. Maybe I set my expectations too high, based on the success we had last year. I was hoping for about 800 people to go through in 2 hours. As it turned out, the counter at the entrance showed 364 as the final tally. Nowhere near the foot traffic I had hoped for, which seemed to cap off the night for me.

Nearly 3 weeks of work, time and effort going into this haunt for what equated to about 90 minutes of being open. We might reevaluate the level of effort we put in next year, especially if we continue to get no volunteers. I don’t fault anyone on the PTA board, as they all other duties to attend to during the evening. The teacher have other duties as well during the night. Not sure there is even blame to place, even through we may think there is.

Unlike last year I had to draw up a letter to the 5th grade teachers, talk to each class about what the positions and responsibilities would be this year in the haunt and finally make up a matrix, based on 20 minute increments of time for kids to sign up for to act as a guide or scarer. This was work I didn’t get involved in last year. That was followed by a teacher asking me if I had the permission slips? I knew nothing about them.

So maybe we live and learn each year. But the experience this year was disappointing and will reconsider what next year brings, especially if we don’t see volunteers come forward and help. Between Mark and I, there are 3 years left before our kids are out of Vintage Parkway and I can’t think of a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house, but that might become reality if other parents don’t make time to get involved and help out.


6th Floor Haunted House: Tonight

enter_if_you_dareAfter nearly 3 weeks of construction and countless hours of work, the Vintage Parkway 6th Floor Haunt is ready to open doors. The haunted house has been in development for nearly a year, unfortunately some of the ideas I had hoped to include this year fell by the wayside, as I ran out of time, money or just made the decision not to include it this year. Tackling on this project last year, we failed to develop a theme in which to build around, so buying assorted props and adding more “sutff” to the haunt was how we approached this project.

This year, in the months leading up to the haunt I decided a carnival/fun house theme would work very well with the overall Harvest Carnival theme that the school does to support this PTA sponsored event. By the time I got going, it was too late to implement this theme in conjunction with the Harvest Carnival, but we were able to include a few.

Mark Greer and I spent many hours, between shuttling kids to practice and other events, as well as work and other priorities to put together the 2014 version of the haunt that will debut (and end) tonight beginning at 6pm. While it’s tiresome work and at time expensive we had a great time being together the resources to make this haunt happen. Vintage Parkway is going to have a great set of resources when Mark and I no longer have kids in the elementary school, it’s my hope VOLUNTEERS can keep it going.

After walking out of the stage last night, I felt good that we had accomplished something this year. Unlike last year, there were areas that felt incomplete and we were rushing to throw things together in order to open up on time. Problems plagued us before the doors opened and we had to settle for how the haunt looked. This year, we were better organized and many of the resources were already in our possession. We had most of the material for the layout, minus the wood we needed for our 16′ hallway we built.

Unfortunately, I probably spent more than the PTA President wanted me to (sorry Amy), but as we were developing and putting together the haunt, we have been trashing many old props that are damaged and old, which wouldn’t be used in ANY haunt. I know re-purposing older props does happen, but some of these were not worth making that effort. We did however add many new props, most clown related to be included in our haunt the next 2-3 years. We picked up numerous masks, a few costumes and other hanging items that we have strategically placed this year.

It’s funny, but I am already thinking “next year we will…” and we have not even opened the doors for the 2 hour Harvest Carnival this year. We will have to see just how organized it is. We request more help than we have asked for in years past. We will have 5 actors (responsible teens or adults) in the haunt, not only participating, but as chaperones, in order to monitor kids (usually middle school and high schoolers) who seem to think it’s fun to f*ck around and piss off Mark and myself. In addition to the actors we are including 4-5 fifth graders, who participate as  a “scarer” or “guide” for a 20 minute period of time. While I was hoping for a list of 90 students to round out the matrix I created, we did get 57 students to help out, some I am sure will stick around for more than their allotted 20 minutes.

I have been looking back to last year and some of the problems we had. The biggest problem, people purchasing tickets to use at the Harvest Carnival. That piece was our of our hands, but many people were let through without providing tickets, which on some level was fine. We also failed to have enough flashlights for the guides to us, so it seemed the line was never ending and groups of people were not being processed at a good rate.

This year I am hoping for a total of 800 people to go through in 2 hours. Those might be some loft goals, but I think we could achieve that number. We know kids love to go through more than once. Parents will usually go through with younger kids and friends of kids who go to Vintage Parkway usually end up showing up. So while I am not dwelling on the number of people or the amount of money the haunt makes, I will be curious to see how well we do in 2 hours.

With the time and effort we put in, it would be great if the school district and PTA could run the haunt for the Harvest Carnival on Friday and then for a few hours on Saturday. Not sure if there would be any added cost to have some staff on hand, as well as a janitor and PTA folks to manage the haunt. Might be an opportunity to make the teachers even more money, which in turn is spent on the kids.

The other idea we will look to implement next year, adding a photo booth in the haunt. Just like the roller coaster rides at Disneyland, I checked with the gal who does much of our photography at events and it’s definitely affordable. Just like selling ticket for food, drink and the attractions at the Harvest Carnival, we would sell tickets for a photo and provide the individuals with a numbered receipt in order to claim their picture. Add a $2 or $3 charge and it’s more money donated to Vintage Parkway.

Regardless of the number of people who walk the haunt or the amount of money we make, being safe, scary the kids and having fun are the priorities for this evening. We look forward to having a great time “clowning around” the 6th Floor Haunt. As a reminder, the Harvest Carnival begins at 6pm at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. 

Haunted House: Update

scaredHaunted house update, as it’s just under a week until the doors open for the 6th Floor Haunt at Vintage Parkway Elementary School. This is the second year Mark Greer and I have been in charge and have update last year’s layout to hopefully bring forth another successful haunted house, as the centerpiece for the school’s Harvest Carnival. Back in July I thought I was well ahead of the game, I had the layout nearly complete, we had many props already to go and should have been able to come in what I spent last year (just over $1000, which was reimbursed by the school PTA. Thanks a lot!) Unfortunately, as life goes you get busy and work for a project in October gets pushed to the back burner until you MUST get going in order to complete the project.

I hit that point last week, as I probably overdid it when it comes to what I spent in order to get the haunt done. But it’s materials and props that are needed if the school wants to continue making money (for the teachers accounts) during this carnival. Thankfully there are so many other attractions going on during these event, but the draw is the haunted house. Take nothing away from the ladies who have spent countless hours prepping, making signs, coming up with games for the kids to play and deciding on what food and drink will be served. It all takes time and volunteers in order to be successful.

As for the haunt, we were about 9 days later getting started. School let out on the last Friday of August for 2 weeks, which allowed us (last year) to get started building the haunt on the school stage. This year, we were delayed because the janitor had to wax the floors in the auditorium, which put on hold. We got access to the stage Wednesday of last week and started erecting PVC pipe and 16 feet of walls we were going to use. Actually, as Mark and I talked about, it might have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave us time to hang out and build the 16 feet of walls we were going to use. We made use of this time and didn’t sit back doing nothing.

Even with long hours and constant work, we are still behind. Maybe that is common or maybe it just appears that way. The entire layout took parts of 2 days to get build. The layout did go up much faster this year, thanks in part to the advanced planning and the fact most all of the PVC pipe was cut and I had laid it out in July and bundled it together by sections. Much like last year, we ran out of room as we approached the last section of the haunt. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. I know I measured and remeasured, yet we still had to make some changes on the fly. Thankfully I had accounted for potential changes to the layout and we were able to fit the entire layout in, almost as it was drawn up.

One thing we failed to decide upon early was a theme for our haunt, which is key to anyone wanting to tackle this challenge. Last year, being my first year it was a matter of just filling each room and making it fun for everyone. This year, the theme came to me too late and I was not able to order enough props and have another project half completed, as I await the resources to finish it. Next year (and we still haven’t had the harvest carnival this year) we will be moving to a fun house/carnival theme centered around evil clowns.

It’s amazing to hear and see the reactions of people when the word, “clowns” are mentioned. Something seems to strike a chord with individuals that evil clowns are not something they want to be associated with. Mark and I on the other hand saw this video:

…and we knew we had a theme we could bring to our haunt. While it’s only the first year with clowns, we know this will be a continuing theme for the next 2 years until my son is done with elementary school. We have also added a new scare to the haunt, but I won’t go into until after the haunt, as it’s the centerpiece of our haunt this year. With any luck I will have some video to upload after the haunt to show the reactions we got.

We are bringing back the dot room, which was very successful last year. I know many kids will expect this and know there will be someone in this room, hopefully with an upgrade in the black spandex costume (that’s me) with the dots painted on it will improve how I blend in to the walls.

clownsMark will be our king clown this year, I had intended to give him a nice large area to run around in scaring kids. With the changes to the layout his realm is not as large as I would have liked, but should still prove to be a good scare. We are also bringing back the hall of faces, which didn’t work well last year because I waited too long to buy white faced masks and paint them fluorescent colors to be lit up under a black light.

While there is still confuse and questions to be answered about the haunt, things are coming together. My hope is we won’t be running around on Friday, hours before the haunt putting finishing touches on decoration. Hopefully we can have all of that done by Thursday and relax a bit before the lights go off and the frights begin.

Halloween 2014

harvest_carnivalChristmas seems to come before Halloween this days, as stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s carried very few items for this scary celebration. Now that Halloween is over and we look forward to closing out 2013, it’s not too early to start planning for Halloween 2014. Laugh all you want, even with about 50 days to plan this year, we still could have used more time to get the haunt ready. Next year we won’t be running around, hours or even minutes before putting the final touches on the The 6th Fright at Vintage Parkway Elementary School.

Not more than 3 days after the Harvest Carnival ended I was already writing up my post mortem experience. I also put together a more comprehensive review of our design and layout, construction, rooms and our time to haunt. While this year was a “learning experience” I believe we can improve the haunt for 2014 and possibly generate even more revenue for the PTA. I have already begun working on a new layout that will still contain 6 individual haunts, but will do away with some of rooms we used this year.

With any luck we will have 30+ days to prepare the stage, build our structure and piece together an impressive display of haunts for The 6th Fright at Vintage Parkway, for this temporary project. For the most part, we will still use PVC as the main structure, but will introduce some wood facades, as well as hanging our cloth sheets for the dot room. While there are still details that need to be worked out, Mark and I will have 10 months to build whatever props we will be using next year.  For example, one idea I found was a garage door mausoleum. These faux stone panels could easily be attached to a wall, but creating each of these panels would take time to make.

One of the bigger projects I am planning will require eight 4’x’8 sheets of plywood. While I won’t reveal what these plywood sheets will be used for, it will take time to prepare, cut and paint them in order to include them in a convincing haunt. This could actually end up as the centerpiece in 2014, much like the dot room was so talked about this year. You tube as been invaluable since I have taken a fondness to Halloween. I have included another unique scare that might or might not come off. Unfortunately, one piece of the equation that was missing this year, volunteers.

Three years I put my name on a piece of paper to help at the haunted house. Last year I believe Mark helped at the door, while I was inside the haunted house. This year, Mark and I were responsible to build the haunted house or sadly there would be no haunted house. Were the hell are parents to volunteer? Why not take an active interest in your children and get out, support the PTA or one of their event, such as the Harvest Carnival. Thankfully the gals of the PTA, as well as my wife and mother in law came up huge to help out and paint some of the sheets for the dot room. Aside from them we had no volunteers ask to help build the haunt. At the start of the carnival our wives ended up taking tickets and playing crowd control into the haunt. In order for the plans I have to be successful I will need more than just 5th graders inside to scare guests.

One area that we failed at this year, which will be organized prior to the start of the carnival was ticket taking, guides and crowd control. Funny to put the wives in charge with nothing more than 2 chairs, a can to take tickets and flashlights for the guides. Have at it ladies! I thought the flow of guests was really slow this year. Part of that was due to the fact we only had 3 flashlights. How something like that was overlooked is beyond me, but it happened and didn’t think anything of it until that afternoon, by which team is was almost too late. Ticket taking wasn’t a problem, but my wife believes we could have moved more people through, especially those who offered cash. Unfortunately, the carnival doesn’t work that way and all money is handled by PTA board members. So the long ticket lines is something the PTA needs to address prior to next year. Crown control wasn’t bad from what I heard, I would like to decorate the ticket taking area/entrance to the haunt, giving guests in line something to watch on a few TV screens. Many good ideas have come up, but due to time this year, we didn’t put any time into this area.

Hopefully my early planning and opportunity to build props through out the year will pay off and Mark and I won’t find ourselves struggling to decorate and finalize the haunt moments before we open. Lots of work to do, but after seeing the turnout this year and the excitement of everyone who went through it, we look forward to this in 2014. Be prepared for an every better haunted house at the 2014 Harvest Carnival.