Rhonda Ulmer is the Founding Director of University for Parents and an AmeriCorps Alum. She shares her story in her own words below:
I’ve always known volunteerism was in my blood because my mother models what it means to be a volunteer. My mother has served more than 70 hours a month for the past 26 years educating individuals and families in the community on how to apply Bible principles in their lives for true happiness. Her service totals more than 21,840 hours. My mother is a tireless, selfless volunteer that leads by example through service. She found her life’s purpose through the ministry. This is what you call a turning point of no return!
The turning point of no return is the point when one discovers their passion beyond which one must continue on their current service of action because turning back is impossible. It’s when you move forward in your life and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
When I served with Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program of the Governor’s Office, I discovered my passion working with Anne Arundel Community Action Agency Head Start. I created a family mentoring program to help parents help their children be successful in early childhood education. AmeriCorps served as my turning point of no return. After serving one year, there was no turning back! I had turned in my free flight benefits with Southwest Airlines to serve. Serving as an AmeriCorps member was the best vocation decision I made in my life. AmeriCorps helped me develop volunteer management skills and open up many doors of opportunities for my future.
I learned through serving with AmeriCorps that my passion is working with parents and families. As a single mother of three children, I understood the challenges facing families in my community. While I was serving with AmeriCorps, my children’s school became in danger of being taken over by the State Department of Education due to its failure to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requirements. Seeing that change needed to happen at my childrens’ school, I took action!
As the PTA president, I received parent training and a grant from the Maryland Parent Leadership Institute to fund the Van Bokkelen Family Network. The Network’s goal was to help families meet basic needs, so parents in turn could focus on the academic needs of their children. The Network collaborated with many community partners, including the local Boys and Girls Club, Southwest Airlines, Anne Arundel Community College, the YWCA, Maryland Food Bank, Community Action Partnership and others.
The Network used the school as a hub to provide the community with support and resources. After three years of hard work, commitment and dedication from parents, teachers, and community partners, the school was no longer at risk for being taken over by the state. In fact, the school has made adequate yearly progress, a key NCLB benchmark, for five consecutive years.
I saw success in the Van Bokkelen Family Network and knew it was an effective model for community change. Inspired by the success of giving parents tools and resources, I started University for Parents (UfP), a community program committed to supporting parents through family education.
Every year 1.3 million kids drop out of high school. UfP has partnered with Maryland Public Television and the Cooperation of Public Broadcasting American Graduate Initiative to address the drop crisis in our schools. We are helping parents help their teens graduate from high school through our family education program.
Until this day, my mother continues to be my inspiration to volunteer and serve. In turn, I lead the same example for my three children to follow. As parents we are our child’s volunteer for life. The efforts we put in being a part of their education, pays off when our child graduates from high school, grows up to be healthy, happy productive citizens of society that give back to their community.
Volunteering is my way of life. After battling cancer twice before the age of 40, there is nothing else I rather do then spend my days being a great parent, role model and give back to others in my community.
I encourage all parent leaders, groups and PTA/PTO to attend the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn, connect and be inspired by other volunteer leaders who discovered their passion and turning point.