Editor's Note: This article originally published on May 8, 2012. It is one of many examples of people making a difference in Troy. Tell us about others in the comments.
When it comes to multitasking, Troy's Jeanette Tanafranca is a seasoned pro.
Seemingly effortlessly, and with a cheery disposition, she juggles her three children – ages 8, 6 and 3 – with her volunteer work at Bemis Elementary, where she runs the school's Market Day fundraiser, serves as head room parent in one of her children's classrooms, volunteers as vice president and communications chair of the Bemis Elementary PTO, serves as a parent representative on the internal quality review team for the Troy School District and coordinates the school's award-winning multi-cultural coffee mornings for parents at the ethnically diverse elementary school.
And did we mention she's also a registered nurse who works 32 hours a week and teaches CPR to new moms? Oh, and she's earning a second master's degree in education from Wayne State University.
This ambitious mom, who recently received the "Superstar Volunteer" award from SBLI life insurance company for her volunteer work at Bemis, certainly has an impressive resume. But how does she do it all?
“I have a great husband," Tanafranca said with a chuckle, adding, “I have my work and I have the PTO stuff and the CPR stuff, but that stuff is fun to me, so it doesn’t seem like work.”
Tanafranca said she volunteers not only to help the school, but to simply be closer to her kids.
"What I love is just being able to be a part of my kids’ day. It sounds simple, but just being a part, even just for a minute," she said. "It’s important for me to be there for them."
Michigan mom heads to DC
Most recently, Tanafranca's volunteer work earned her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the state of Michigan in this year's Parenting magazine's Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference. Last week, Tanafranca joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and 50 other moms from every state and the District of Columbia in Washington, DC, to exchange ideas on how to improve the nation's schools.
“Parenting magazine has this conference every year, and it’s the third year they’ve been doing it. ... There’s an essay and a recommendation process, and you submit all that as well as who your recommendation person is.”
The conference's theme – “Teach Me Something New” – included appearances from spokespeople for NBC News’ Education Nation, First Lady Michelle Obama Let’s Move!, Save the Children, National PTA, National Education Association, Teach for America and more.
"I am extremely honored to have been selected to represent Michigan at the 2012 Mom Congress,” Tanafranca said, adding that she hopes to be able to "inspire and motivate others to make positive changes in our children's education and communities" using the knowledge she gained at the conference.
Cultural coffee builds relationships
One of her favorite projects, Bemis Elementary's cultural coffee, is also one of Tanafranca's most successful volunteer projects.
“We’re really working on parents’ engagement and cultural coffee mornings helps parents become engaged," she said.
During cultural coffee mornings, parents give presentations describing their cultural background for other parents and children. Parents from Nepal, Korea, India, China, Germany and other countries have participated so far, Tanafranca said.
"The kids were asking great questions," she said. "It definitely impacts the kids and their success in education when they see their parents participating.
"Hopefully we'll be able to keep it going year after year."
Bringing technology into schools
Tanafranca has worked to bring technology to the classrooms at Bemis and helps run the school's PTO Facebook page. Her master's in education, which Tanafranca estimates she'll finish in 2014, includes an emphasis on interactive communications.
“I was a volunteer storyboard designer for e-Learning for Kids,” a global nonprofit foundation that provides free online learning for kids of all ages.
“They’ve just got thousands and thousands of modules," she said, adding that she helped create a fifth-grade math module focused on multiplication and division.
“Right now, that math module’s in production," she said.
A valuable asset to Troy Schools
Tanafranca's hard work has not gone unnoticed by the district.
"A partnership between parents and schools is essential to student success, and no one personifies that more than Jeanette Tanafranca," said Kerry Birmingham, spokeswoman for Troy Schools. "Mrs. Tanafranca is a tireless volunteer at Bemis Elementary, and an advocate for all our children."
Birmingham said Tanafranca can always be counted on to jump in whenever someone is needed, is always looking for a way to positively impact the schools and should be commended for her efforts to foster diversity in the schools.
"As the driving force behind Cultural Coffee mornings at Bemis, Mrs. Tanafranca has helped bring the entire community together and offered our ESL (English as a Second Language) parents a way to meet other families and be involved in their children’s school," Birmingham said. "We are extremely proud to have her represent the Troy School District and the state of Michigan."
All about balance
Though she is still working nearly full time, Tanafranca said she plans to continue to volunteer at Bemis so long as her children attend the school.
"I love being able to be their teacher. Just being a part of that learning environment is another reason I like to volunteer," she said, adding, "I like getting to know people, meeting people.”
Tanafranca, who works for the Henry Ford Health System, said her employer has helped her maintain balance in all of her activities.
"They have been a very work-life balance-friendly organization," she said. "Because of that, I’m able to do the other things that I can.”
Tanafranca said she looks forward to volunteering and teaching, saying, “Honestly, it’s fun.
"For me, it’s fun. It’s not work.”