How to Help

Want to Help Out Kids in Portland Public Schools?

Pay taxes? Check. Want to do even more for schoolkids? Here are some ways to give a little extra.

By Margaret Seiler January 29, 2019 Published in the February 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) sends volunteers into schools to read one on one with students.


For donations small or large, Tamala Newsome—Portland's longest-serving principal—suggests checking out teacher-led projects on, where it’s possible to search by zip code. To go all Robin Hood, narrow searches to schools that serve mostly students from low-income families.

Many local PTAs are hooked up with Amazon Smile, Fred Meyer Community Rewards Program, and Benefit Mobile, which funnel a fraction of corporate funds to a specified nonprofit (such as a PTA) whenever you buy toilet paper, fair-trade coffee, etc. Each requires little beyond a onetime setup and costs nothing for the donor.


Got three hours? Portland Public Schools’ Project Community Care brings out thousands of volunteers on a single Saturday each August to rake, shovel, prune, mulch, and plant, sprucing up school grounds before the start of each school year.

Other than that, don’t expect schools to gush with gratitude at single-day volunteer offers. “To be honest, that’s just taking my time,” says Newsome of one-off, one-time volunteers. If you have an hour a week, she suggests looking into SMART (Start Making a Reader Today), which sends people into schools to read one on one with prekindergartners through third graders.

Helpers can even earn a little dough, thanks to Multnomah County’s SUN Community Schools program and the many organizations it partners with. Volunteers are also welcome, but once-a-week after-school teachers and mentors can be paid for short-term gigs. “They can help with kids doing their homework. If they have art skills, we have art classes,” says Maricka McCuly, who works in the SUN program at Prescott Elementary School in Northeast Portland’s Parkrose School District. “If they’re bilingual—any extra skills that they can bring to the table, we really try to add that in there.” And the money often stays in the community: Prescott parents have taught Spanish classes and led cooking workshops.


“No, I do not take unsolicited boxes of books!” declares Jenny Gapp, teacher-librarian at Peninsula Elementary, noting that books entering a school library need to be culturally and age appropriate, and meet certain standards for content and condition. Many school librarians maintain a Powell’s or Amazon wishlist to direct potential book donors to titles students have requested. Hardcover is preferred, but Gapp says she can take paperback donations of popular titles, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid: “Can’t have too many of those on the shelf!”

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