This month marks a homecoming of sorts. My 4th grader is moving up to the school where I joined my first PTO close to a decade ago. At the time it was a K-5 elementary school. Now it’s a grades 4-7 building, though rumor has it that next year it will shift up a notch to house 5th through 8th graders.

Either way, to me it’s home.

During the year I didn’t have a child in that building, I still felt its pull every time I drove by. The few times I needed to go inside the school, say for a Cub Scout meeting or to vote in a town election, all the old instincts kicked in. I knew which of the front doors to try first (the ones on the right are always locked). If my errand took me into the cafeteria, I’d mentally gird myself for the metallic squeak of the seat before settling in. When I’d walk by the lost and found (tucked into an alcove on the left, a third of the way down the hallway off the main lobby), I’d scan the lunch boxes and stray mittens before remembering that none of the items belonged to my kids.

The building feels like home because I’ve spent so much time there over the years but also because the PTO readily took me in and made me part of the school community. We live in New England—an area of the country where people are not known for being open to strangers. I blame the long winters of being cooped up and isolated from one another. Whatever the reason, it’s not easy to get to know new people around here. So I was impressed and pleased when, after I worked up the courage to attend my first PTO meeting, the women on the board seemed glad to see me. They learned my name and treated me as though I’d always been a part of the group. Soon the school and the people in it became familiar and comfortable.

After talking recently with the president of Timberlin Creek Elementary PTO—the national runner-up in the Parent Group of the Year search—I feel doubly fortunate to have had such a good first experience with an established PTO. It’s easier for a group to gel when everyone starts from the same place, as they did at Timberlin Creek. The school is in an area that’s growing so fast, the new building exceeded its capacity by about 600 students soon after it was built. All of the families were new to the school when it opened two years ago, and about 60 people joined the PTO as active members.

PTO president Sarah Brittain said the families were excited to have their own school and eager to establish themselves as a community. They brought ideas with them from their kids’ former schools and set an ambitious calendar of events. Last year, the group logged 1,300 volunteer hours. It also achieved phenomenal success raising funds and awareness for the bald eagle and for early childhood literacy.

So, now my family will be starting new again at an old school. Even though we know the place well, it will undoubtedly have changed. The lost and found will most likely be in the same place, and I’m sure the cafeteria seats will still squeak. But the PTO board is different. Some members have moved on, and new ones have taken their places. Still, I already have a good feeling. Our official welcome to the building is a 4th grade movie night. Hosted by the PTO, of course.

Sharron Kahn Luttrell volunteers for parent groups at two schools in Mendon, Mass.