No matter what hat you wear day to day, the Good Hope School Parents’ Organization in Frederiksted, Virgin Islands, will find a job for you. And if you’re on campus during the group’s annual Contractor’s Day, you and your family are sure to have an ocean of opportunities to help spiff up the place.

Contractor’s Day, an extreme campuswide makeover abbreviated to one Saturday each fall, was conceived nearly five years ago by then-PO president Lisa Borden. Borden, whose family lives next to the school property, saw potential in some unused land marred with overgrown bushes and a rusty chain-link fence. “It was what any realtor would describe as ‘prime oceanfront real estate overlooking the beach,’” she says. Borden and her husband, a licensed general contractor, approached the school and offered the use of their backhoe to rip out the old fence. Consequently, she says, “we decided that with some extra hands, we could clean up the area and make it a wonderful and usable space.”

Because much of the work entailed demanding physical labor, such as chain-sawing, pickaxing, and hauling, leaders brainstormed about lighter projects that families could work on together. When the day arrived, volunteers got to work on tasks like brightening up an extracurricular room. “Our after-school room was dingy, dirty, drab, and not set up for that purpose,” recalls Borden, now PO vice president. “The art department came up with some stencils for the older kids to decorate the walls, and the younger kids all scrubbed and painted the cubbies bright colors of their choice, complete with dribbles and brush marks.”

Since that day, Contractor’s Day has morphed into an annual school tradition. And just as at the first event, not everyone needs a hard hat or a backhoe to help out. Each year, Borden and PO president Jennifer Planeta solicit project ideas from faculty, students, and parents and ask members to vote on which ones to tackle. In the past, they’ve revamped the school’s swimming pool and gym locker room, painted all the picnic benches and playground equipment, and put a slew of plants around the perimeter of the playground.

Over the years, the group has become more organized about gathering supplies. These days, the majority of materials are typically donated; the PO spends less than $200 on additional supplies and food and drinks for the volunteers. A parent or teacher acts as a lifeguard so volunteers can cool off in the pool once the work is done.

Parents are also encouraged to wear their thinking caps on Contractor’s Day. “We built two gazebos for shade using palm fronds for roofing,” says Borden, “and we now have a very usable patio area.”

The Group
The Good Hope School Parents’ Organization, Frederiksted, Virgin Islands

School size: 278 students, grades preK-12
Annual earnings: $6,000
Fundraisers: Gala and silent auction, catalog sale, and concessions
Mission statement: The purpose of the Parents’ Organization is the active partnership of parents and teachers working together...to achieve the best possible education and well-being for all the children of the school community.

Contractor’s Day
Volunteers tackle projects under the guidance of a licensed contractor

Fix it up: Solicit parents and staff for ideas about areas to fix up. “We put up a wish list in the faculty lounge for the teachers to give us their input on what projects they would like to see done,” says Good Hope School PO president Jennifer Planeta.

Handy people needed: Check the school directory or volunteer surveys to find parents with specialized skills. “We do have architects, botanists, artists, and other tradesmen who take on roles as the events progress,” says former president Lisa Borden, “but we have general ideas from which to work and let things progress as they happen.”

Like clockwork: “One of the snafus we ran into was not having enough projects to keep everyone busy,” Borden recalls of the first event. Now, she says, “We are sure to have multilevel projects so that all ages and abilities can find something fun and productive to do.” Rain also has occasionally hampered outdoor projects, such as painting: “We now know to have additional indoor projects.”

Finishing touches: Keep your helpers well-fed and cool throughout the day, and make sure to thank them appropriately when the work is done. Good Hope ends with a family barbecue and a swim in the school’s pool, manned by a lifeguard.