Mark C. Holden, right, from Brainstormers!, holds a mike for story author Amelia Schlisman at Churchill School in Homewood, IL on Friday January 11, 2013. The Homewood PTA is turning 100 years old and sponsored the event. The group has actors and students acting out stories students wrote earlier in the year. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:06AM
As it moves into its second century, the Homewood Parent-Teacher Association can define itself as one very adaptable organization.
Given all of society’s changes, how else could a group survive for 100 years?
Reflecting on changes since the early days — when “it was Scouts and PTA,” Homewood PTA president Margie D’Astici said — one of the big challenges these days is to recruit an army of volunteers from among a world of working parents to maintain its many services, D’Astici said.
Yet the Homewood PTA is pretty much humming along.
“For the most part, when we do an ‘all call,’ people come,” D’Astici said.
That goes for finances, too.
“This year we’ve been able to fund every program the schools have asked for,” D’Astici said. “I feel like we’re in a good place.”
Some of the annual programs funded by the PTA include Operation Snowflake, Operation Snowflurry and Rachel’s Challenge (all promoting social development and responsibility) and Arts Volunteer in the Classroom.
D’Astici said the PTA also funds special assemblies that tie into the district’s curriculum and behavioral programs.
And when children visit their school store to redeem earned tokens, or a parent picks up a Market Day order, it is PTA volunteers who are there to help.
Sue Ryan, in her third year as the Homewood PTA historian, said the 150 volunteers among the Homewood PTA’s 650 members make a difference.
“There’s a lot of manpower hours here in the PTA’s history and there continues to be,” Ryan said. “We’re in the schools every day in different roles.”
From a historian’s point of view, Ryan believes the organization is as relevant as ever.
“When you (look at) the programs we support, we’re a vital connection between the schools — whether it’s the teachers or the school board — and the parents. It’s a vital link,” Ryan said.
Ryan said she has learned the role of the PTA is “vastly different” now from other eras, but it always seems to reflect the times for the benefit of the children.
Documentation is scarce from the “simpler” times in 1913 when Homewood PTA founder O.T. Bright started the organization, Ryan said. Homewood School District 153 enrollment then was 300 children, compared with the current 1,875.
But the artifacts and records that do exist tell a story of school and community involvement.
Recordkeeping during the Depression, Ryan said, shows the PTA actively working to keep schools open by selling tax-anticipation warrants.
During World War II, the PTA sponsored blood banks, “Summer Roundups” to ensure children would receive their immunizations, and a hot lunch program because mothers were working while fathers were away at war.
Budgets often weren’t as flush as some are today, Ryan said, but members were resourceful. Booklets from the 1930s show that PTA meetings were held in members’ homes, where the group listened to national PTA programs on the radio. Topics ranged from tooth decay to sex education, but children were always the focus.
Ryan said one of the PTA’s most profitable fundraisers, the Homewood PTA Thrift Shop, was begun to help families in the 1940s afford everyday necessities. The resale shop became a staple for 50 years, moving from site to site until it closed its doors at its last location on Gottschalk Avenue in 1993.
Fundraising efforts are different now, D’Astici said, as are the needs of the school community. But the PTA still will pitch in as the needs arise.
Sometimes that means being a voice in the community. For instance, the Homewood PTA was instrumental in getting voters to approve a property tax increase in 2011, for which it received the Illinois PTA’s legislative advocacy award, the “Making it Real for Kids” award.
The volunteers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, either. In 2012, the Homewood PTA was awarded the Illinois PTA Environmental Concerns Award for its part in donating and planting hundreds of trees and shrubs and working on a playground enhancement at Churchill School.
There’s always room for more.
“There’s two ways for people to become involved in the PTA,” D’Astici said. “That’s membership and volunteering. We’re always looking for people to be involved.”