Never Quit in Sight of the Finish Line

Momservation: From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life. ~ Arthur Ashe

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In 30 days it will be the end of my children’s Pre-K through 12th grade schooling.

I have entered the final straightaway and can see the red tape across the finish line. I am trying to give a final sprint to the finish, but my legs are heavy, my lungs feel like they’re going to explode and I just want to stop and rest for a minute.

But I won’t. Even though I am so done with all things Parent Volunteer, I’ll see this through to the last Staff Appreciation breakfast, the last PTSA meeting, the last Senior BBQ and Pool Party.

Because as I have always taught my kids: NEVER quit in sight of the finish line.


Because people remember the ones who finish. There is no glory in giving up. And why would you put in so much effort to accomplish something only to pull up short once you saw you almost made it? Why would you bother sacrificing so much only to have it all be for nothing because you decided you had come close enough? You’ve come this far. Dig deep. Crawl across the finish line if you have to. Because there is nothing like basking in the glory of triumph and proving to yourself that you could do something you had set out to do.

And let me tell you, this has been a marathon race of parent volunteering that began back in August of 2005.

It started with being a Snack Parent for Pre-Kindergarten. I started the race strong with apple wedges, grapes, cheese and crackers all adorably individually packaged. No last minute, 7-Eleven bought, hydrogenated oil infused, judgmental looks from parents here!

When they were both in elementary school I volunteered in both kids’ classrooms, which could include an entire half-day of kindergarten. As a work-from-home mom this would mean working after midnight when the kids, the husband, the dog and the hamster finally didn’t need me.

I drove and chaperoned for every field trip the kids ever had. Since I had my 8-seater Big Red I was always tapped to drive. I didn’t mind because I loved the backseat conversations and seeing the social involvement of my kids in their “natural habitat.” Although this did mean doing everything twice including dressing in “vintage” clothes for Pioneer Days (thanks old 1990’s work clothes) and spending a week overnight in the woods with hormonal and homesick sixth graders. This also made me the class photographer through 8th grade.

Since my writing career was keeping me too busy to commit to a regular position on PTA (and truth-be-told I didn’t want it), what I could offer was my assistance to committees that my friends were chairing. I opened a vein and gave blood to the Auction Committee, Staff Appreciation Committee, Beautification Committee and Fall Festival Committee, as well as being unable to outrun being tapped as Classroom Parent more than a few times.

When the kids got to middle school, my pace was slowing and I definitely hit the wall. But once again my services were needed. I grudgingly became a Back Gate monitor, so the students could safely walk and bike to school—the gate would remain locked forcing the kids onto the busy front street without a regular monitor and parents weren’t stepping up. So I would throw on my running clothes, do my AM and PM shifts, and then run through the neighborhood to squeeze my workout in between every other commitment.

As you might have guessed, in my previous life I was a track runner and coach for a track club. Since middle schoolers would rather die a dramatic death than see their parents in the classroom, but staff still needs to be supported, I reached out to see how I could “quietly” help. The math teacher/track coach took my offer to time races or rake long jump pits and raised it—gratefully making me an assistant track coach for the next four years.

The school librarian also scooped me up like a veteran Baskin-Robbins ice cream scooper and put me to work reorganizing the staff Novel Room. It took an entire year, the borrowing of a label maker (which became organizationally addictive), and regular popping of allergy pills, but tackling and taming the beast earned me the eternal gratitude of the librarian and English Department and my first district service award.

And because my motto had now become: It’s all for the kids—I stepped up when no one else would to be Movie Night Chair for the sixth graders who weren’t allowed to go to middle school dances yet.

By the time my first kid got to high school, it seemed everyone had dropped out of the race. Parent volunteers had come out too strong and had nothing left for the final stretch. Since I considered these last four years of my children’s’ education pivotal as well as being the last fleeting years with my kids at home, I scaled back my work, took the baton from my depleted friends who had run awesome first legs of the parent volunteer race, and offered myself up to the high school as a volunteer to finish this last leg strong for our kids.

I was almost torn apart in the feeding frenzy for real, live, committed, passionate, volunteer help at the secondary level.

The Athletic Director’s office wanted me. The sports boosters wanted me. The PTSA wanted me. The college and career path group wanted me. Baseball, football, track, volleyball, basketball, the front office, staff, custodial…everyone desperately needed help.

So I started, with some other dedicated volunteers, a school pride and spirit support group who could mobilize to make sure our high school community was supported. There was plenty of room for improvement at the school when my kids started and we were determined to leave the school better than when we got there—even if it meant our own kids may not benefit from some of our longer range goals.

I basically ended up doing Pro-Bono Public Relations (another previous life vocation) for my kids’ high school for the last five years. The transformation of the school and its culture has been one of great pride. Two years ago, I got my second district volunteer award when the school secretary quietly nominated me for a Spirit of San Juan Award.

This brings me to my last PTSA meeting this week where I will be handing off the baton to the next wave of eager volunteers ready to make a difference in their community and in their kids’ lives.

I’ll be honest with you—I don’t want to go. I’m so tired. I’m so done. I feel like in finding my successors, I have glimpsed the finish line. And ahead this month there are still a few more hurdles to jump that I just don’t know if I have the strength to do it: Staff Appreciation breakfast, Senior Pool Party and BBQ, Grad Night…I just want to stop and rest a minute.

But I will dig deep. I will drag myself to this last meeting. And I will finish this parent volunteer race stronger than I started—from the provider of adorably packaged healthy snacks to making sure the Class of 2020 will be the first to use our school’s new all-weather track and field.

Because why would I put in so much effort into accomplishing something only to pull up short once I saw I almost made it? Why would I bother sacrificing so much only to have it all be for nothing because I decided I had come close enough? It’s been a 14-year parent volunteer effort. I will dig deep. I will crawl across the finish line. Because there is nothing like basking in the glory of triumph and proving to myself that I could make a difference.

In the lives of my kids. For all the kids. For the staff, for the administration, for my community.

And all I ask is that my kids were watching; that they will be inspired to grab the baton and join the race when it is their turn to do something good for others—no matter how busy they think they are.

Because nothing beats the feeling of breaking through that finish line tape knowing you gave your all.

#NeverQuitInSightOfTheFinishLine  #BeInvolved  #ItsForTheKids


  1. Dan Ott says:

    Jell- I know are not looking for accolades, but you deserve every positive acknowledgement, award, good word sent your way! As a minimal volunteer supporter of yours, I was always in awe of your dedication. My goal is to step up for Rio ( and Jesuit and Mira Loma) these next 4 years and keep your momentum rolling!!
    Thank you for all you have done!!

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Thank you, Dan! I have always appreciated your support and knowing I had people like you behind me gave me the confidence to make sure we left Rio better than we got there. Thank you for keeping the momentum going in any way you can – big or small. High tide raises all boats!

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