Megan Steelman Dostal has a familiar face for a reason. With the energy and enthusiasm of the Energizer Bunny, South Pasadenans have become accustomed to seeing Dostal all over town, at every school, speaking from the stage at the 5th grade musical, Color Festival, Parti Gras and more. After five years on the SPEF board where she served as the co-chair of Parti Gras, Human Resources Vice President, and the past two years as President, Dostal is stepping down in July. Says a visibly emotional Dostal, “it has been life changing for me.”
SPEF is celebrating its 40th year, since a group of parents in 1979 sat around a living room brainstorming ways to raise funds for textbooks, art classes and other things that the state funding didn’t provide. Says Dostal, “from those humble beginnings SPEF has now grown into a 40 member board, a staff of 4, we run the afterschool and summer school programs, all of our fundraising events, and in 40 years we have raised just over 14 million dollars. I think it’s safe to say that our town and our schools would not look the same without SPEF.” Dostal and the rest of the SPEF board hopes to engage as many South Pasadena parents as possible by becoming board members, serving on committees or volunteering throughout the year. Opportunities abound!
Dostal says, “I hope to get as many incredible South Pasadena parents involved and encourage people, far and wide to join SPEF in our mission.” After serving on the board for five years, Dostal will leave the board explaining, “I want our new President, Michael Main, to have the board room to himself and not ever feel like he has to speak carefully with me there. It’s important to be able to reflect, speak freely and bring new ideas to the table.” She remains devoted to all things SPEF and now really wants its message out there in the community.
She admits that her participation is on the high end and wants people to know that there are so many ways to participate with SPEF that are not quite as “all in” as she has been. She explains, “every board member is on two committees, so you might be working on Parti Gras or Color Festival while also working on a committee like Major Grants or Teacher Direct Grants. The events help us raise the money and the committee work is how we spend the money, so they get to play a part in deciding how we distribute the funds that we raise.” She goes on, “we have a marketing and public relations committee where they do a lot of writing and social media. So we’re able to talk to the members to see what they like to do and what they want to do.” She tells us that one board member works for the LA Times and so she says, “guess what? He edits every single thing that you see because that’s what he excels at. We have professional fundraisers who sit on our major grants committee because that’s their expertise and they have been able to revamp our systems based on their professional experience. It’s about being a team player and seeing who you want to work with and how much you want to work, so some committees may be one meeting a month or just committee emails and other committees will meet more often, especially surrounding an event like Parti Gras.” She goes on, “the Parti Gras team works so hard in March, April, May, but their summer is nothing when the summer school team is hard at work. We have a summer school teacher right now who runs the summer school program because she’s busy teaching during the school year. So really we try to make your participation fit with your life.”
When asked to expand on how being a part of SPEF has been life changing, Dostal explains, “well my mother was a teacher and I remember going to Lakeshore School Supplies with her and watching her use money that my grandparents had given her for her school supplies and I remember thinking that was nice of my grandparents but I also thought that was really strange. So when I became a mom and it became clear that I was going to have some time to volunteer because I own my own business, my Mom told me that whatever I could do to help the teachers, that’s who needs your support; work in the classroom, support the schools because it will make all the difference. So that’s what I’ve done; from serving at Arroyo Vista PTA, volunteering in my son’s classrooms and when he went to middle school I knew that SPEF was where I needed to put more focus on.”
Having joined SPEF when her son was in third grade, she told then SPEF President, Jon Primuth, “I guess I’m crazy to join SPEF with such a young child but he said, ‘no, you’re smart to join now because you get to plant the seeds and your son gets to enjoy the shade. You’re making decisions and raising funds for the middle school and high school and he’s going to be there benefitting from your hard work.” She says it is indeed “awesome seeing Wyatt do the 5th grade musical with a sound board that SPEF raised money for and go to the all city track meets sitting on benches that SPEF helped purchase. We’re really all over the place and I love seeing him benefit from the time I’ve spent.”
Sitting in a local breakfast joint, Dostal looks wistful and full of gratitude, “everyone has their reasons for working for SPEF but by and large, we are grateful for our schools and it’s a thank you and a recognition that we all need to give back.” As she leaves her SPEF role she says, “I want to thank the board for being so supportive and awesome and hardworking and I’d like to thank the town for stepping up. We have raised so much money, we’ve been able to support so many programs, amazing curriculum at the high school, a new wellness program at all our elementary schools and I think our town recognizes the benefit of having a group like SPEF that can support athletics, curriculum and wellness. They recognize that it’s about the whole student and they trust us with their donations to make the best choices for the whole student and having that trust from this town has been awesome so I would say thank you for trusting me.”
A grateful town says Thank you, Madame President!
To find out more about SPEF visit their website at www.spef4kids.org and if you have any questions contact Executive Director, Stacey Petersen, at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to answer any questions you may have.