When Susan Kaden’s children started kindergarten in 2008 at Red Oak Elementary in Highland Park, Ill., she and a small group of parents started a PTA welcoming committee. Kaden wanted to help parents meet one another and get
answers to all the nitty-gritty questions, like “Where is the best place to park at pickup time?”

Kaden has been actively involved in social outreach and community service programs ever since. In fact, she has been so active that she received a Those Who Excel award from the Illinois State Board of Education in October 2012. The award was given for her community involvement, which was fitting. Throughout her volunteer efforts, her focus has been on helping others and promoting kindness.

The welcoming committee, for example, provides new parents with a handbook published in English or Spanish to ease the transition to school. Also, members of the welcoming committee, including Spanish-speaking parents, make phone calls to all new parents to answer questions at the start of the school year.

In 2010, Kaden stepped up as the parent representative on Red Oak’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program, a character-building initiative. Through coaching, discussions, and a rewards system, children are encouraged to treat others with respect and constructively solve problems. Kaden helps organize events and assemblies and takes photos of students recognized for respectful and kind behavior.

Kaden also is involved in the PTA’s social action committee. “Collections are good, but we make an effort to engage the students to learn,” she says. “We identify a community problem, learn about it, and then work with the students to address the problem.”

Now her years at the elementary school are wrapping up; her children will graduate in June. Kaden isn’t sure whether she will be a middle school volunteer, but she’s clearly not ready to retire: She has already signed up to help with the districtwide fun run that raises money for scholarships.