Volunteer program piloted at Rockland

February 24, 2009|By JANET HEIM

As the newest school in Washington County, Rockland Woods Elementary School is being used as a testing ground for new programs. One new venture is the use of a Volunteer Maryland coordinator to help build the school's volunteer base.

Sarah Staley was hired as the Volunteer Maryland coordinator, assigned the main tasks of coordinating volunteer activities at the school, starting a student government to develop young leaders, helping start a PTO and developing partnerships with the local business community.

Staley is a 2004 North Hagerstown High School graduate and a 2008 graduate of West Virginia University. She is the first person hired by the school system through the Volunteer Maryland program, which is under the auspices of AmeriCorps, a service-based program like a domestic Peace Corps.

"What Sarah is doing is piloting a program that can be duplicated throughout the system. There are untapped volunteer resources in the community," said Terri Baker, WCPS development coordinator.


Some of those untapped resources include businesses who might be willing to "lend" their employees to volunteer during their work day. In addition to volunteers, Staley is also charged with developing a community around the school.

Staley earned a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising with a concentration in business administration, but grew up with a mother who was a teacher. She also worked at the WCPS Central Office during summers while in college, so was familiar with the school setting.

In the midst of her job search before graduating from college, Staley came across an ad for the Volunteer Maryland position and decided to apply.

"It was a different atmosphere and used different skills than I learned in college. I wanted to see what else is out there," Staley said.

After taking the 11-month job - which offers extensive training, a living allowance and post-service education award - Staley discovered the most important skill for the job was the ability to work with people, skills she had developed in college, after all.

A desire to serve was also key. Staley said it was her involvement in college with Phi Upsilon Omicron, an honor society, that fueled her passion for community service.

Baker said Staley stood out among the other applicants for the Volunteer Maryland position.

"She came in with so much energy and enthusiasm. She sat at the table with so many ideas, she was just busting. We were sold immediately," Baker said.

Staley has organized a school-wide cereal drive for Food Resources. She is also contacting local businesses to see if they would be interested in helping support the school in any way.

The next step is to get in touch with groups who are looking to get involved in the community. The goal is to create a community of parents, students and volunteers who are invested in the school, Baker said.

She added she would like to expand the program for another year, although there are no plans in the works yet.

"It's been great. I didn't know exactly what I would be doing. Once I got her and started doing things, it was even better than I had expected," Staley said.

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