Spotlights
FACE of the Week: Molly Camacho, volunteer at Lansdowne Elementary School
As part of BCPS’ commitment to ongoing Family And Community Engagement, the “FACE of the Week” is a new, regular feature of the BCPS website that introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS special – our volunteers and PTA members.
12/07/2015

Spotlight

For just a moment, Molly Camacho stares at the man behind the pickup truck’s wheel, squinting in the cold afternoon sun to make out a familiar face.

“Oh, hey, there,” she says to the driver, recognizing him and suddenly beaming. Remembering that he has recently had a medical procedure, she asks, “How’re you feeling?”  

The man nods as Camacho pushes aside a “Do Not Enter” barrier and lets him drive through and angle into a parking space in front of Lansdowne Elementary School. Soon, the small parking lot will fill and scores of cars will line the curbs along Alma Road from Lansdowne Boulevard nearly down to Clyde Avenue.

This afternoon, Camacho will regulate the line and monitor the parking lot as she does every school day, rain or shine, hot or cold. It’s one of the things she enjoys most about volunteering at Lansdowne, and there is a lot she loves about volunteering here.

“It’s a family here; it’s a close-knit place,” she says. “And out here, you get to see everyone and say hello. You get to know who the parents are and who the children are.”

The 40-year-old Lansdowne resident has deep connections to the school.  She went to Lansdowne Elementary as a child, grew up with the school’s principal as her next-door neighbor, and has a history of family volunteerism at the school. “My mother still tells us today how important it is to do this work,” Camacho says. “Plus, it just makes you feel better.”

Plenty to do

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The warm feelings are mutual, says Lansdowne Principal Stephen Price. “Mrs. Camacho is an excellent example of the impact that one parent can have on an entire school community,” he says. “In addition to her previous years of supporting Lansdowne students, this year she has played a pivotal role in ensuring student and family safety each day (by taking over) our ‘Parking Lot Parent Patrol’ this year.”

Camacho shows that not every parent volunteer may be found in the classroom or even inside the school building – though she does plenty of volunteer work there, too.

In addition to her daily afternoon parking lot patrol, Camacho spends at least an hour per week collecting, collating, and copying hand-out sheets for each of the school’s four Grade 1 classrooms. It’s exacting work, and time-consuming, but Camacho gladly does the job knowing that it frees up the day for teachers. Besides, she adds, “I have the time.”  When she’s not at Lansdowne Elementary, she’s likely helping her husband operate a nearby Latino grocery store and take-out.

It’s a measure of how familiar Camacho is here, however, that she’s met with hugs and high-fives whenever she wades into hallways full of children. She seems to know most by name.

“You can learn a lot being a volunteer where your child goes to school,” Camacho says. “But my kids are news reporters anyway, so they tell me anything.”

Amy Cirjak, the school’s S.T.A.T. teacher, says the staff feels lucky, too, to be able to rely on parent volunteers like Camacho. “She is a huge help to our teachers each year,” Cirjak says, “and is willing to support more than just her own children’s classrooms (by) reaching out to the grade level team.” 

The past as prologue

Camacho’s love for Lansdowne is never far from the surface. She’s lived here most of her life, and she has never strayed far from the southern Baltimore County neighborhoods. In the 1980s, she and her sisters, Gerry and Amanda, could be found in the Lansdowne classrooms; their mother, Beverly Hofman, served as a “room mother” for her daughters’ classrooms and PTA officer for the school. Even when her mother took a job as an administrative assistant at Baltimore Highlands Elementary School more than a decade ago, the seeds of volunteering already had been planted.

“If someone asked me today about whether to volunteer, I would tell them to go ahead and do it,” she says. “I get from it a real sense of being part of the school and you are helping a lot, even when you don’t think you are. It’s definitely worthwhile.”

She also enjoys seeing her own children – Michael, in Grade 5, and Nicole, in Grade 1 – come of age in the halls of Lansdowne. Nicole likes seeing her mother in the classrooms; Michael is a bit more reserved. But Camacho says it’s instructive to see how the school has changed since she went here, and even since her son arrived just a few years ago -- more technology and different teaching styles among the most profound changes, she says.

The need for good volunteers is constant, however, and folks like Camacho are there to step up. “I’ll do anything anyone asks me to do, whatever they need,” says Camacho.

Lately, she’s delighted in re-discovering many old classmates from grade school; she’s found them waiting for afternoon pickup in the line along Alma Road or in the parking lot in front of the school. “This is a growing community, one that is becoming more diverse,” Camacho says. “So it’s nice to reconnect with a lot of us who went to school together. Now we’re parents ourselves.”

Camacho turns back to the task at hand today, bundling against a chill wind as she scans the road for new parking lot arrivals. It’s just before dismissal begins at 3 p.m., and she paces the sidewalk, ruminating – perhaps for the first time – on what it means to be here. “It’s just always been a given,” she says, grinning. “I’ve never even left Lansdowne.”

But as the light wanes and the shadows lengthen and the line stretches along Alma Road, Camacho keeps coming back to the same thought. “That’s what it is here,” she says finally and half to herself.

“It’s being part of the family.”

To learn more about volunteering in BCPS, visit http://www.bcps.org/community/volunteer_info/

For more photos, visit the BCPS Flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/bcps/albums/72157661552171040.

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, specialist, BCPS Family and Community Engagement.
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