Ronnie Willis’ first involvement experience at Earl and Hazel Harris Academy, a public elementary school in Houston, didn’t exactly leave her feeling warm and fuzzy. On her daughter’s first day of kindergarten, Willis nervously requested a few minutes to acclimate her to her new surroundings. The teacher’s response was less than sympathetic: “Why don’t you go find a Sunday school class to teach?”

The encounter, naturally, left Willis apprehensive about getting involved at the school. But things changed in 2004, when the principal begged Willis to serve as PTA president. Now she’s making sure parents get the welcome she never did. “I go from car to car sharing with parents all that we have going on and ask them to stop by,” Willis says. She also says she makes about 200 calls from her home or the school before every meeting and event. Her personal outreach efforts have translated into great turnout at activities such as Halloween safety night, doughnuts for dads, muffins for moms, and a “mix and mingle” volunteer appreciation ceremony. At one PTA meeting, she arranged for a local mother-and-daughter social club (yes, she’s an active member!) to cook a lasagna dinner; more than 150 parents showed up.

Willis says that much of her success in building involvement comes from her gift for gabbing. A key message that Willis says resonates with parents and garners support at Harris: “The PTA does not run the school, and the school does not run the PTA.” She hopes her success at Harris can inspire those starting out as lone soldiers in the involvement trenches at their school. “Sometimes it’s less than a group effort,” she says, “but it’s the effort that matters just the same.”

Just about every facet of involvement at Harris is grander since this one-woman welcome wagon began gracing the school campus. Last year, she planned a winter carnival that featured a marching band and a fire engine brigade. “People were lining the streets to see what all the hoopla was about,” she says.

Willis implemented educator and volunteer of the month programs. She has enhanced teacher and parent relationships and the climate at the school. The principal and staff at Harris even nominated her for the state board of education’s Heroes for Children award in setting unparalleled involvement standards for all parents. Willis is waiting to hear whether she’s a winner. But is there really any doubt?