Secrets of involved moms

Apr 16, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. ET

You know those moms who always seem to be helping in the school library, planning a school event and coaching soccer? They are forces of nature. But what's their secret for being so involved — and juggling life at the same time?

Lauren Shankman

Lauren Shankman and her daughters

Lauren Shankman of Georgia is a mom of three — Leah and Sydney are nine years old and Jake is three. She works part-time at a public relations agency, which affords her some flexibility with her schedule. "If our school has a need for me to volunteer on-site (book fair, etc.) I try to schedule that around my work, so [I choose] an early morning shift or afternoon," says Shankman.

Shankman is a coach for Girls on the Run, a learning program that combines running with life lessons, as well as a Girl Scout troop co-leader, co-vice president of her kids' school's PTA and on the board of the school's foundation.

SheKnows: What advice do you have for other moms who want to get involved but feel like they may not have the skills or enough time?

Lauren Shankman: Having a co-leader to assist you in any regard is really essential. No one can do everything by themselves! I'm lucky to have co-coaches, co-vice presidents and co-leaders and we work together really well. Parents who work outside the home can still find ways to be involved no matter what their schedules look like. Our school is getting better about using electronic sign-ups that can easily be shared (such as Volunteer Spot) which often taps folks that otherwise might not know how or where to sign up to help.

SK: How do you keep track of everything you have to do? Do you have a special system?

LS: Technology is what keeps me sane. I use a color-coded Google calendar for all my personal appointments and meetings as well as the kids' activities, so I can access it on my iPhone, iPad and work laptop at all times. My husband has access to it too, which helps eliminate surprises. Keeping vital files on Evernote or Dropbox also means I never have to worry about having information at my fingertips whether at home, work or on the go.

SK: Why is it important to you to be so involved in your kids' activities?

LS: When I show my enthusiasm for activities (whether scouting, running, fundraising, etc.) it is definitely noticed by my children. I’d like to think I am setting a positive role model for how to make a difference in our community, how to balance personal and professional activities and what it means to be a leader. This is likely all lost on my 3-year-old and who knows what capacity I’ll still be volunteering by the time he’s school aged — but this is where we’re at for now.

June Dzialo

June Dzialo

June Dzialo of New York is a mom to one daughter, Makayla, age six. She is the treasurer for her daughter's elementary schools' PTO. "I am responsible for all incoming and outgoing funds — I do all of the banking, reconciliations and budgeting. I compile a detailed report to the rest of the group on a monthly basis. But I also take on many responsibilities outside my role as treasurer. I work closely with the other PTO board members, as well as the school's principal and teachers," says Dzialo. "I also spend time comparing our current vendors to their competitors to make sure we are getting the best value and customer service available."

SheKnows: What advice do you have for other moms who want to get involved but feel like they may not have the skills or enough time?

June Dzialo: I'd recommend moms who want to get involved should simply attend meetings and/or respond to requests for help. I think they'd find most projects are well within their abilities and time constraints. If there's ever any question on what a project entails, just ask a leader to break down the tasks. It's easy to forget that new volunteers aren't familiar with how an organization or project works. And, if in the end it's not a good fit, they shouldn't be afraid to say, "not this time," and wait for an opportunity that better suits their needs. Volunteering should be fun, and organizers appreciate honesty. On the flipside, as a volunteer in a leadership position, I think it's equally important to never turn away help. You may not need an extra set of hands for a specific event, but you don't want to discourage someone from volunteering in the future.

SK: How do you keep track of everything you have to do? Do you have a special system?

JD: Cozi! Cozi! Cozi! I use both the website and the Android app. I cannot imagine where my life would be without it! It’s my family's calendar, to-do lists and shopping lists. I input everything from the lunch menu and special classes (music, physical education, etc.) to birthdays and other events. I even put in my daughter's spelling words so we can practice on the go.

SK: How do you decide what volunteer opportunities/positions to do?

JD: I'm definitely type-A, so I want to do everything and do it perfectly. But, clearly that's not possible. So, I try to choose opportunities I believe will have the biggest impact, which not only speaks toward the group's reach, but volunteer supply. If one organization has numerous hands-on participants, I step toward the one with few active members. I also look for groups that are interesting to me and that can benefit from my work experience.

SK: Why is it important to you to be so involved in your daughter's activities?

JD: I'm the marketing director at The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, which is not only an hour commute from my home, but requires long hours and a high-level of dedication. I love my job and my co-workers are family, especially considering I've been with Glimmerglass since my daughter was just 9 months old. And, the work environment is uncommonly supportive. I'm able to shift my in-office hours around PTO obligations, and I'm able to work from home on days that there's an event or meeting to avoid a stressful commute. But mommy guilt still plays a huge role in my commitment to the PTO. It makes me feel like I'm there to support my daughter in a place that takes up so much of her time — school. I'm helping to make her experience there even better, and I know she's proud of the work we do.

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