V is for Volunteer: An Interview with an Extraordinary Volunteer

By Sarah Svarda, Book Fair Chairperson and Librarian at Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro, TN

Monster theme decorations for All for BooksI have favorite people. I met many of my favorite people when they volunteered at our school’s book fairs. One of those people is Julie Seymour. She volunteered to help with the book fair for the first time when her daughter Madeline was in elementary school. Madeline is now in high school and Julie still volunteers at not only my book fair, but two others in our district. She is one of the most creative and amazing people I’ve ever met. I interviewed Julie to get inside her brain and share some of her thoughts from the volunteer point of view.

1. When did you start volunteering as a parent?
I always volunteered as room mom for both of my children through elementary school. As far as the book fair is concerned, I started helping with that about eight years ago. My youngest was in third grade. I met you, Sarah, the librarian that year, and saw how you took book fair to a level I had never seen before. I haven't stopped volunteering since.

2. When you are volunteering, what are your favorite assignments/roles in helping?
I love to be involved in the brainstorming sessions and helping create some of the crafted props.

3. You are so creative. Where do you get your ideas?
Like SO many others, I get a lot of my ideas from Pinterest. Usually, the minute one of my librarian friends tells me the next year's theme, I have a pin board up and loaded within the hour. I think about what my imagination would hope to see when I was a kid. I take whatever crazy imagination that was and try to make it real. I also like to look at the "bones" of the room in which the fair will be. I try to imagine how that room can be something completely different. The kids really love it when they feel like they are literally stepping into a new world.

4. You've volunteered as a parent for many years and your daughter is now a junior in high school. Why do you keep coming back to volunteer for book fair?
I have fun. Plus, I have had some amazing friendships grow from these experiences, and who doesn't want to help a friend? Right? I don't come back alone, either. I bring my daughter with me to help as well. When my son was still a kid, he would come help too. Helping my friends take their book fairs over the top is an awesome way to sate my creativity.

5. What do you like best about Scholastic Book Fairs?
Opening the boxes. I'm kidding. Working with a team to create a new world full of new books for the kids to get so excited about.

6. What advice would you give to a first time parent volunteer?
They should probably try to help out with as many aspects of the fair as possible on the first round. That's what I did. Some people prefer the registers, some prefer family nights, others prefer decorating and some just want to set up the tables. Once you've tried it all, you know fairly quickly what you will and won't prefer to do in the future.

7. Has your participation as a Scholastic parent volunteer impacted your daughter in any way?
Madeline and Weston (my kids) have both been impacted, I hope. My husband and I have always tried to make volunteering and helping in the community a part of our lives. Having fun while volunteering is an added bonus. We want our children to understand the importance of helping others in many ways.

I think helping with the school book fairs shows them that community service comes in all different forms, not just donating money or working a soup kitchen. They have done those things as well, and have felt rewarded, it's just not the only thing out there. Also, with these book fairs, my kids are coming back to a piece of their own history, fostering those relationships with mentors and old friends, and impacting the kids who are there now.