Cory McCray, whose children, ages 3 and 5, are too young to attend middle school, still spends many hours in the halls and classrooms of Northeast Middle School in Baltimore, where he volunteers.
Recently, he helped the school start a student government and, before the elections, visited each classroom to give students advice on how to campaign. Among his suggestions to candidates was creating a brand identity by choosing one or two colors to dominate their campaign materials.
On Jan. 28, McCray was recognized for his volunteering efforts at the middle school and elsewhere with the Golden Apple Award from Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Franchot's Golden Apple Award program, in its inaugural year, recognizes "volunteers who don't get paid, rarely get recognition, but play a crucial role" in the success and vitality of a public school, he said.
Ten awards so far have been given to people and organizations. The recipients to date include Sabine Harvey in Kent County, Trish Post in St. Mary's County, Linda Price in Baltimore County, Heritage Baptist Church in Anne Arundel County, JoAnn Burl in Montgomery County, Cecilia Quinonez in Prince George's County, Tina Mike in Harford County and Jill Burnett in Carroll County.
Because Franchot makes decisions on school construction and repairs, he has visited some 150 schools in the state, he said.
"It was very clear that the top-performing schools had very engaged parent involvement," he said.
The program accepts nominations from organizations affiliated with the school, and Franchot chooses the final winner.
"The award is meant to be somewhat generic in that it represents hundreds of other people," he said.
Franchot plans to keep the award program going. "The wave of the future will be more involvement by parents in the schools," he said. "This was meant as a way to encourage and spotlight outstanding volunteerism."
He also plans to give each award in person. "There's travel involved, but it's OK," he said. "It's not me doing the hard work, it's them."
Besides, Franchot said, he can see that the award ceremonies are meaningful to the communities, schools and volunteers.
"If the response from the schools and the citizens was ho-hum and we don't really care, that's one thing," he said. "But that's not it. It's the opposite."
"It really was a special thing, a special moment," said McCray, 30, who is a landlord in the Belair-Edison community, serves on Baltimore's Board of Elections and sits on the board of the Belair-Edison Community Association.
While growing up in northeast Baltimore, volunteering was "just the message I was given," McCray said. He previously had spoken to Northeast Middle School about his business and life experience, so he wasn't surprised when he was asked to put his knowledge of election procedures to use in the corridors of the middle school.
McCray was surprised, however, that his work had caught the attention of Franchot.
"I didn't have to go to Annapolis. This guy came to my neighborhood," he said.