Grace Mancini-Rodriguez admits it took a while for some parents to get used to her leadership style. “I’m stubborn, and I don’t like to take no for an answer,” says the president of the Theodore Roosevelt School PTO, in Weehawken, N.J. Her stubborn streak doesn’t seem to have held back the group, though, which has had some notable accomplishments—among them attracting 70 volunteers and 400 guests to a single event.

That small army of helpers showed up for Taste of Roosevelt, the annual multicultural potluck Mancini-Rodriguez helped create four years ago. People are invited to share traditional food, dress, and music; more than 24 ethnicities were represented this year. “We wanted everyone to feel like family,” she says.

According to Roosevelt Principal Anthony D’Angelo, her tenacity is why parent involvement across the board is at an all-time high. “Grace is relentless in pursuing parents and getting them involved in any way that they are comfortable,” he says. “She has a knack for maximizing parents’ talents and abilities.”

Mancini-Rodriguez begins reaching out to families at summer’s end with a back-to-school reception, outlining each date on the PTO calendar and her involvement expectations. In the days leading up to an event, she sends emails and makes personal phone calls to parents.

Throughout the year, she coordinates volunteers to help with school-sponsored activities, including a winter festival with a holiday shop and book fair, a bake sale at Weehawken’s community festival, and a year-end fun day for all students. “Even the town council and some members of the board of education have taken time off to come to our events to volunteer,” she remembers.

Mancini-Rodriguez is also a full-time realtor, and she believes her involvement at Roosevelt has only enhanced her chosen career. “As PTO president, interacting with parents, students, and teachers has educated me regarding people’s needs and expectations,” she explains. The mother of three boys ages 6 to 13, she says her school involvement is motivated by the smiles on students’ faces. “I care so much to make it memorable for the children that I will find a way to get the job done,” she says. “If they look forward to going to school, I’ve done my job.”