School events struggle without parent volunteers

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LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Betty Heydt and a handful of other volunteers have been painting post-prom decorations since September.

They’ve also been trying - so far, with limited results - to get local businesses to donate food, money and prizes for Ephrata High School’s post-prom on May 17.

When an email seeking volunteers was sent out to 900 parents, the post-prom committee received just one response.

It wasn’t an offer to help; it was a question about the New York City bus trip that’s intended to raise money for the post-prom.

“I think it will all come together - it usually does,” said Lisa Kachel, the committee’s volunteer coordinator. “But it’s nerve-racking.”

Across Lancaster County, post-prom committees, PTOs, the Girl Scouts and youth sports organizations are dealing with a dearth of volunteers.

The parental volunteer shortage isn’t universal: Manheim Central High School’s post-prom committee consists of parents who have been “active from kindergarten the whole way through,” said parent Kelly Shenk, who’s also the high school’s office manager.

But at Conestoga Valley High School, this year’s post-prom planning meetings have drawn fewer than a dozen parents.

Jim Yowler, CV’s post-prom committee chairman, said there simply weren’t enough parent volunteers to put on a traditional post-prom at the school.

A Baltimore harbor cruise is planned instead.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 25.4 percent of the population volunteered in the year that ended September 2013.

That volunteer rate was the lowest it’s been since 2002.

Carol Auster, professor of sociology at Franklin & Marshall College, said that “in a society that tends to measure success in terms of one’s achievements in the workplace … fathers and mothers alike may be working long hours and have less time and energy to be parent volunteers.”

The service economy requires “emotional labor,” Auster said. “Perhaps folks are too emotionally spent at the end of a day to take on the kind of face-to-face volunteering needed to be a parent volunteer.”

Dave Neslund is a former president of the now-defunct Manheim Township Blue Streaks Booster Club.

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