One of the reasons we started PTO Today was because parent group leaders traditionally didn’t have a way to get together and share ideas outside their own schools. Struggling groups couldn’t learn from successful groups. And the best ideas weren’t passed around to all groups.

The thinking was that our magazine, by sharing best practices and best programs in its pages, could be a conduit for passing ideas back and forth among parent group leaders. I’m happy to say that this part of our plan went—and is still going—great.

What we didn’t plan for was the enthusiasm and energy that you guys would show in working through PTO Today (OK, barreling through PTO Today) and connecting directly with one another.

It’s been one of my favorite developments since we started this crazy endeavor, the relationships we’ve fostered among like-minded volunteers all over the country. I guess it’s safe to say that a lot of you are as crazy as we are when it comes to building parent involvement at your schools.

It all started when we added message boards to our website, around 2001. I’d been to website forums before. Certainly then, and even today, most online forums were kind of desolate places with an occasional shout for help mixed in with tons of Viagra and get-rich-quick ads. I expected ours might be similar.

But our forum took off from the day it went live. Instead of a barren wasteland, we had Times Square on New Year’s Eve, teeming with lurkers (folks who just read and learn) and active posters right from the get-go. In the first week, we had discussions about involvement and bylaws and fundraisers and teacher gifts and overbearing principals and wonderful principals and every other idea under the sun. And folks with user names like JHB and Critter and TheMetzyMom started offering their hard-earned expertise to new parent leaders. Parent group leaders were talking directly to each other and loving it.

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

I’ve watched as innumerable cyberfriendships have grown. The forum had more than 40,000 messages posted in less than four years. Not a week goes by that we don’t receive a heartfelt email from a new parent leader so thankful that the forum and its generous idea-sharers got her through a tough spot. There’s nothing else like it—anywhere—on the Web for parent group leaders.

The same year we started our forum, we also started our parent group conferences. We held just one in a suburb of Boston. It was a one-day event scheduled to end at 5 p.m. However, at 6:30 we still had dozens of parent group leaders in groups of threes and fours throughout our space. The hotel staff was literally vacuuming around these crazy people (crazy about creating the best parent groups for their kids’ schools) as they traded phone numbers and best ideas and as they commiserated about shared frustrations. It was a great day, the first time we’d ever been able to take our parent involvement mission to real live people, as opposed to distant readers and Web users. It was my favorite day in the early years of PTO Today.

The common denominator in both scenarios—the vibrant message boards community online and the vibrant PTO Today Expos now held across the country, is you folks: wonderful, caring volunteers so willing to help each other out. The spirit that makes you such assets to your schools similarly makes you effective at helping your fellow parent group leaders.

If you haven’t yet visited our message boards or been to one of our in-person sharing events, please consider this my personal invitation. If you could use a few new ideas or even just a supportive PTO pat on the back, we have just the thing for you. Looking forward to meeting you soon, online or in person.