O’Brien’s desire to play an active role in her children’s education has blossomed into working directly with students, a post on the school PTA Board and fundraising to keep learning fun for the children through field trips and other programs.
Wheaton Patch: Where do you volunteer to work?
Vanessa O’Brien: I am the current PTA Treasurer at Emerson Elementary School in Wheaton and will be the new Co-President of the PTA next year. This is my second year in this role. In the PTA you can only hold an office for 2 years and then you must step down, but can switch positions. I also volunteer in my children's classroom which involves reading with the children and also doing such tasks as copying, grading papers, doing their memory books and various other tasks.
Patch: Do you have a “day job?”
O’Brien: I currently work at O'Brien Law Offices, P.C. I have been a legal secretary for 21 years and have done the bookkeeping at the office for the last 12 years. I work in the office and also am able to use remote access and work from home. I am in the office approximately 18 hours a week.
Patch: What inspires you to volunteer?
O’Brien: I volunteer at Emerson because I like to play an active role in my children's education. As a licensed teacher myself children are very important to me. In the last couple of years our schools in Illinois have had many education programs and learning opportunities taken away due to funding, i.e. Battle of the Books and our DARE program. As a PTA we raise money so our children will continue to have fun, learning experiences such as field trips, Exploremore Day, Reflections Program and various other programs that make learning fun.
Patch: What kind of people do you most enjoy working with?
O’Brien: I truly enjoy working with children. They are incredibly special and a gift to us. They are always curious, excited about learning and full of energy and enthusiasm. I feel that one of my gifts is to work with them and teach them in a manner in which they understand. I also am familiar with bookkeeping and use that skill to maintain the PTA Books.
Patch: Do you have any particularly inspirational stories about someone you have helped?
O’Brien: One of my most inspirational times is not actually related to the PTA itself but by just being an involved parent. We had a student in my son's kindergarten class who was homeless. He would go to school during the day and then mom would pick him up from school and they would wait until 7:00 until PADS would open. They would be fed there and sleep on their mats. Then get up for school and start again. As winter approached and school came to an end for Christmas Break I knew they would have no place to go during the day while dad was at work and it was getting cold outside. I decided that our school could make a difference in the life of this family and this very special little boy. I wrote a letter to all of the kindergarten parents and the school staff to raise some money that would allow this family to have a warm place to stay during our Christmas Break. We were able to collect enough money for two weeks at an extended stay hotel for this family and people donated food to help them get by. As my family left for Florida for Christmas Break I knew in my heart that this little 5 year old boy would not be wandering the streets in the cold but would have a nice warm hotel room and food to eat. That was what Christmas was all about!
Patch: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment as a volunteer?
O’Brien: My greatest accomplishment as a volunteer has been our Emerson Family Bowling Night/Silent Auction. Last year we were able to raise $1,700 through donations and our silent auction while our Emerson Families enjoyed a great family night of bowling. The money we raised was split 4 ways between our PE Department, Music, Art and Exploremore Day. It is always a great feeling when you know that your time and efforts have helped our kids in a direct way.
Patch: How much time do you spend volunteering each week?
O’Brien: Most of my time is spent at home doing the books for the PTA. I usually spend 10 hours a week between being in the classroom, PTA meetings and the bookkeeping I do at home. At times it is much more when I am chairing the Bowling Fundraiser. I spend approximately 15 hours a week for the 2 months leading up the fundraiser.
Patch: What is your ideal vacation spot?
O’Brien: My ideal vacation is laying on the beach or at a pool in Florida relaxing. Our family has really enjoyed Venice and Naples during the winter months. We also make frequent trips to Disney and Sea World during Spring Break or summer vacations.
Patch: Who is your role model and why?
O’Brien: My role model has been my parents. They have been married for 53 years and are still each other’s best friend. When we were kids my mother was extremely involved with church activities such as children's ministries and the Awana program. My father has been a bowling coach for over 30 years. They each had their interests and always volunteered their time. I have taken a piece from both of them. I have taught Awanas for the past 7 years and my children are now bowling in the same youth league I bowled in for 11 years. My father still coaches the YABA league at Wheaton Bowl for the first half of the year. Then they retire to Florida from January 1, through May 5 every year as my father has been retired for the last 22 years. What a great life!
Patch: Anything else you would like to add?
O’Brien: I would just like to say that God knew what he was talking about when he said it is better to give than receive. I don't think people understand that there is real joy in giving whether it is money or time. When we see the fruits of our labor or how we can impact someone else's life just by being a friend, mentor or some other type of volunteer it truly is amazing!