April 8, 2015

Are you really MAD?

No, the question posed above is not meant to antagonize. Rather, it is a question I ask Santa Barbara County residents at large, in particular as California observes Public Schools Month in April, which we have been doing in the state since the California Freemasons first made the proposal 95 years ago. Are you MAD — Making A Difference — in your local public schools?

That is what this year’s proclamation challenges us to do, and that difference-making can come in the simple form of volunteering as a tutor, to more elaborate forms, such as organizing essay contests and scholarship initiatives which can produce tangible rewards for achieving students — particularly those in need.

The truth is, in a diverse population such as ours in Santa Barbara County, the ability to match skillsets to particular volunteer opportunities are limited only by a person’s creativity and generosity. One Santa Barbara County resident who used to work admissions at a highly-selective undergraduate institution in the Rockies volunteered a number of hours this past fall helping students edit and polish their college application essays. There is the Santa Barbara County resident, an award-winning voice over talent, who “donated” his voice last month for a promotional video an enterprising student group had created in advance of a major fundraising effort. And there are the countless, unsung heroes every day who go into classrooms to help students read, who chaperone school children on trips to museums, who organize blood drives, who judge sporting events or competitions, and who compose mock interview panels, among many other endeavors.

Fortunately, here in Santa Barbara County you don’t have to start cold calling local schools to brainstorm ideas as to how you can get involved. Partners in Education, whose mission “is to connect businesses and individuals with schools and youth-serving nonprofit organizations that serve them,” has been making a difference since 1977. Chris Janeway, a local financial planner, has been volunteering with Partners in Education since 2009. “I focus on financial literacy in schools,” Janeway says. “It’s what I know. Partners in Education allows me to connect my experience on even the most basic levels for students who in many ways aren’t trained on financing class. If I can give them that one leg up,” he concludes, “it’s very rewarding.”

And it is not just our kids who benefit from your generosity. A recent post at the Harvard Medical School blog suggests that volunteering also provides both physical and mental benefits to the volunteer. “A growing body of evidence,” the author writes, “suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health — including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.” If you have ever derived a sense of purpose and accomplishment from a meaningful volunteer activity, the above observation probably comes as no surprise. If you have been sitting on the “volunteer sidelines,” however, now you have even more incentive. It’s good for you!

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot famously wrote, but for those of us taking the observance of Public Schools Month seriously, April affords us a chance to be MAD. I encourage you to start — or continue — making a difference for Santa Barbara County public schools and the children they serve today. As Frosty Troy, Oklahoma’s award winning editor and commentator said when he visited Santa Barbara, “everything America is, or ever hopes to be, depends upon what happens in public school classrooms, where millions of boys and girls will get their chance in life.”