Volunteers Make Charter Schools “Shine Brighter”

Want to know what makes a good volunteer at your school?

They’re easy to spot. It’s the man or woman you ALWAYS see selling tickets at the door of a school event.

Or the person REGULARLY waving kids in-and-out of the carpool pick up line.

Or the one CONSTANTLY sitting in a front row seat at the parent-teacher association meeting.

It turns out, volunteering – like work – is 90% showing up. Making yourself available. Taking your role seriously.  

“It’s being there … when the school needs you,” says Allie Braswell. Allie knows. He was married for six years to a volunteer leader at Innovation Montessori in Ocoee, FL. She was always there. And, with encouragement from her, so was he. In fact, she was good at volunteering, recruiting volunteers, running the parent-teacher organization, and spearheading the fund-raising ArtEco Festival and — well, you get the picture — that Building Hope named an award after her: The Shellie-Ann Braswell Shine Brighter Award.

The award is granted to a charter school volunteer who “has a can-do attitude and an incredible belief in people,” Allie Braswell said. “They should aspire to unite people around education.”

That’s a tall order, but Shellie-Ann Braswell was up to it. She was an exceptional organizer, with a unique ability to inspire others to do the work that needs to be done, which is especially crucial for new charter schools. From cleaning up spaces to creating community events to launching fundraising campaigns,and the essential work of supporting students and teachers in and outside the classroom, this work is integral to establishing a strong school community.

She threw her heart and soul – not to mention the hearts and souls of her husband and their six children – into school projects that would create lifetime memories, not just for the people who attended them, but also for the people who volunteered to do the work staging them.

“Shellie had one of those feel-good smiles that brought energy to every room she was in,” Allie Braswell said. “She volunteered because she had a chance to improve education, not just for her own kids, but for every child in the school. She loved volunteering and the people who did it with her, loved it, too.”

Volunteering wasn’t all Shellie-Ann Braswell did. She graduated from Florida State University with a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and Spanish. She was the Interim Chief Executive Offer of the Central Florida Urban League, a community leader, and an inspiring wife and mother to her family.

Sadly, Shellie-Ann died unexpectedly in November of 2021, while still in full stride at the age of 47.

Her spirit and ability to make everything she touched “Shine Brighter” lives on in volunteers like Dominique Moore and Shawna Thissen. They were co-recipients of the first “Shine Brighter Award” handed out in 2022, along with Sabrina McNally.

Moore is a volunteer at EL Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Her son had developed a social community of friends there, but then COVID-19 hit and virtual school removed the chance to interact with classmates. So, Moore took the lead in organizing “Soccer Saturday,” an event to encourage students and families to get out of the house and be a community again.  

She currently serves as a board leader with Parents Amplifying Voices in Education and a coordinator for D.C. Public Charter Schools family group.

“The Shine Brighter Award reminds me that my voice is real, needed and appreciated,” Moore said. “I’m finally home and a part of a community who are actively making a difference in children’s lives across the country.”

Thissen volunteered for the Family Advisory Council at Promesa Academy in San Antonio, TX. She created Work Room Wednesday where parents pare down the endless lists of classroom chores. She then developed Teacher Appreciation Week and the Giving Tree Program, which provided Christmas Trees for 100 students at the school. She is now the school’s Family Engagement Coordinator, working daily to deepen the school’s relationship with families.

“I hope the Shine Brighter Award and the attention it garners for each school, will pique people’s interest enough to encourage them to volunteer more frequently,” Thissen said. “Individuals, myself included, generally don’t volunteer for the purpose of receiving praise. There is an immense satisfaction that comes with volunteering.

“I do it as a way to give back to the school for pouring themselves into my children every day.”

And, as Moore points out, it’s not really that hard.

“The best way to be a volunteer is just by showing up,” she said. “Whether it’s for five minutes on the day of an event or as a full-on initiative you’re leading, a volunteer’s presence, voice, eyes and support are valuable … and WANTED!”

 

The 2023 Shellie-Ann Braswell “Shine Brighter” Finalists are:

Mark Horst, volunteer at Yoder Charter School in Yoder, KS

Megan Hunt, volunteer at Carolina Charter School in Angier, NC

Cara Nowak, volunteer at Desert Sky Montessori in Scottsdale, AZ

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William Fay

Bill Fay is a freelance writer supplying content for the communication outlets Building Hope uses to promote and expand charter school programs in the U.S. Bill started his career as a sports writer for the Tampa Tribune and Associated Press. He has written about Super Bowls, NBA Finals and college football, basketball and baseball championships. He has turned his attention to more serious subjects like public transportation, personal finance and now, education. He welcomes opportunities to learn more from the charter school audience and become a voice for their community.