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San Juan Living: What I Did for a Free Tote Bag

At a statewide convention, I doubted if I have what it takes to lead the San Juan Elementary PTA.

Well, I did it. After six years of being at the same elementary school, dodging the PTA nominating committee year after year, I had used up all of my excuses (“No, not this year"... “I’ll help out wherever anyone needs me” ... “My work schedule makes it hard”).  

I said yes to officially taking the position of head cheese, a.k.a. president of the PTA. This is often met with “Congratulations!” or “I’m so sorry" or one of my personal favorites, “Does your husband know?”

To prepare myself for next year’s role, I was encouraged to participate in the California Sate PTA Convention held at the Long Beach Convention Center. The one-day workshop was titled, “PTA Presidents’ Boot Camp—We Want You!” I had visions of dropping and giving them 20 if I didn’t know the definition of  By Law No. 4236.

Until the boot camp, my experience with the PTA had been localized to San Juan Elementary. After attending the California State PTA Convention, though, I realized that PTAs exist for more reasons other than to host bake sales. And, I discovered there are actually reasons why women wear hand-crafted t-shirts and scream at conventions like sorority girls.

I made my way to downtown Long Beach equipped with my iPhone, large bottle of water and snacks (anything past the Costa Mesa IKEA is long distance driving). Large parking marquees directed people towards either the Dalai Lama or the California PTA ... I supposed I was bound toward some sort of enlightenment with whichever direction I would choose.

On my short walk to the convention center, I noticed I was unequipped for boot camp. Participants, mostly women, armed themselves with tote bags, rolled filing carts and buckled under the weight of 5-inch binders. Some even had special team t-shirts that gave props to their respective districts.

I had my purse and a pen, and my snacks.

And I was pretty sure I was from District 4 ... But I wasn’t quite sure.

Was this an intimidation tactic to scare newbies into submission?  Where did they get all of that stuff? More importantly, where could I get my own PTA tote?  

The convention center was vibrating with PTA energy. From outside I could hear the "whooohoooos” and “yeeeehaawws."

As I stood to register, I overheard an explanation for all of the excited hollering. “First Time Convention’er!  WHOOHOOOO!” followed by noisemakers and a cheering squad of lanyard-wearing convention volunteers. I half expected balloons to drop from the ceiling ... but I suppose they had to save that for the finale.

Skeptical, I picked a seat closest to the door for a quick escape. But the workshop started, and the presenter was surprisingly funny and engaging. I found myself listening intently—and laughing at presenters who laughed at themselves.  

I learned to never throw a yo-yo to the complaining parent at the school carnival. And, was told that no matter how much you disagree with a fellow board member, it's never OK to throw a book at her.  

After three hours of push-up free boot camp, we were done. I had made it through the workshops without running way, screaming in fright. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was inspired by the speakers, and even empowered in my new position.  I had a new-found respect for the life-long volunteers who have been involved in PTAs for years, even decades, because of their love for children.  

If they could laugh at themselves after all the good and the bad, I could laugh at myself in my insecurity and uncertainty.

I walked back to the parking structure armed with more than just a purse and pen.  I had tools to help me in my new role. I could even venture to say, there was a little excitement brewing at the thought of a new year.

More importantly, I walked back to my car with a new tote bag.

barbara ledterman May 04, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Melissa I'm glad you loved our "Boot Camp" workshop. We had a wonderful time presenting. But, more importantly, I'm glad you recognized the passion behind all PTA volunteers. Children in California are at risk -- their access to healthcare and education is being threatened. It's as though our legislators believe that we can put our children "on hold" until our economy is better. Fill your totebag with information about how "Cuts Hurt Kids" and pass it out to those in your neighborhood who ordinarily wouldn't have access to PTA's information. Will we see you in Anaheim next May?--there will be another totebag and more PTA volunteers from around the state...You could also volunteer in registration and be one of the ones to celebrate "first timers." Barbara Ledterman, Leadership Vice President, California State PTA--volunteer
Dianna MacDonald May 04, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Melissa, I'm so happy that you feel armed and ready to take on your position as incoming PTA President! I'm thrilled that you were able to have a good time during our workshop. It is inspiring to hear about the experiences that our delegates have at Convention. Thank you for taking time to post your story and for your dedication to the children in your school. Sincerely, Dianna MacDonald, California State PTA Leadership Commission
Kay Rookhuyzen May 04, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Yay! for San Juan PTA! They have a newly inspired leaders, fully trained to take control of the PTA at San Juan! I am so glad you attended Convention. It was your first; it was my 19th...I think! It is exciting to "hear" a new comer have such an awesome time. You go, girl! Kay Rookhuyzen California State PTA Leadership Services
Melissa Hodge May 06, 2011 at 06:23 AM
Ladies, I bow down to all of you! That you have taken the time to comment and encourage a "newbie" like me increases my desire to grow up to be just.like.you. I'll bring my rolling tote in May and be sure to track you gals down to give you a "whoohoo!". Thanks for taking the time to comment. You made my day.
Eric Groos May 28, 2011 at 07:08 AM
It is nice to know the right people. Good on on you and at your service.

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