When Reg Avery was growing up, his parents were always involved in the local PTA and their children's educations.
"Whenever we were in school, no matter what, my mother and father were there," said Avery, who has two sisters. "Even if my father was in Vietnam or Korea or wherever he was in the world with the military — if he was home, he was there."
Avery and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the Army.
"[My father] made sure he was there to check our homework. My parents both were active to make sure that we, us kids, that we had someone advocating for us," said Avery, who was born in Japan and moved to Hawaii when he was 5. "And everybody saw, hey, the Avery kids — their parents are on top of this and they're on top of [their kids] too."
After seeing his parents' involvement in his education, he thought it was only natural that he join the PTA when he had children of his own.
"I just assumed that everybody, when you became a parent, you joined PTA," said the Oakland Mills resident. "I found out that wasn't exactly true. But I decided that when I become a parent, I'm going to join PTA because I'm going to be active in my daughters' lives so they know that dad is around, that dad is there to be there for them. I think that's so important."
Avery, 61, moved to Howard County with his wife and two daughters in 2003 and has served on the Columbia Association's Board of Directors since 2014. He first got involved in the PTA at Stevens Forest Elementary, where his younger daughter went to school, in 2007. For the past eight years he has remained an active PTA member, and this year is his first serving as the president of the PTA Council of Howard County.
"So I started out ... just kind of watching and learning," he said about his first experience with the council as a delegate from Stevens Forest. "Then actually from there, they started noticing me because, you know, I'm male. And I was the male that looked a little different."
At the last council meeting in early November, less than 20 percent of the delegates in attendance were male and Avery was one of the only men of color present.
Avery calls himself a "Heinz 57" because of his varied ethnic background, which includes everything from Hawaiian to Irish to African-American heritage. His parents' marriage was illegal in over 15 states until 1967, when the Supreme Court declared laws banning interracial marriages unconstitutional.
When asked how he became the council's president, Avery talked about his strong sense of responsibility.
"If you give me something to do and you tell me, this is what you're supposed to do, I will — from the military — I will take it there because that becomes the mission," he said. "That's what I do."
Even though Avery's father did not want him to enlist, because he was worried about his only son's safety, Avery attended West Point Academy. He wanted to become an officer in the Army.
"I fought in Grenada, I fought in Panama, I fought in Desert Storm," he said. "My first-ever time seeing combat was in Korea."
During the invasion of Grenada in 1983, Avery was hit by shrapnel from an exploded grenade, he said. He still suffers back pain from the injury.
Since serving in the military, Avery has worked in intelligence and federal law enforcement. And he brings all of this experience to his new role as the PTA Council's president. He started in the role this fall and has already shown a penchant for strict leadership.
"I've been accused of running a very tight ship at PTACHC," he said at a school board meeting in October. "I'm guilty. I'm guilty because ... as I told the members of PTACHC ... I don't plan to be [at meetings] at 10 o'clock at night or 10:30, I really plan to go home because I have to get up mighty early."
At a meeting in early October, a few delegates wanted to extend a discussion of the mold issue at Glenwood Middle School, but Avery refused the request.
"The second meeting went a tad long because we had some individuals that were trying to kind of take over the meeting a little bit, but I wasn't going to allow that to happen," he continued in his report to the board. "I told them hey, I said 9 o'clock, 9:10 at the latest, and that's the way we're going to do this. Because I think that we owe it to everyone that attends our meeting to at least get the most they possibly can and to go on and be with their families."
While Avery thinks that mold growth in the county's schools is a legitimate issue — he allowed for it to be discussed for a majority of the council's meeting in November — he said that there are other issues that the council needs to tackle.
"I've been hearing from a number of ... delegates and presidents and a number of them have said, while they think the mold issue is very important, they were concerned with what they heard about homelessness in Howard County's schools," he said.
At the PTA Council's meeting in November, school board member Christine O'Connor spoke briefly about homeless students in the county. According to the school system's 2015 operating budget, 494 homeless students attended the county's schools in the 2013 to 2014 school year.
"I was actually shocked,because I didn't realize there are that many [homeless students]," Avery said. The veteran's voice broke up a little as he said this.
"I can't stand to see a child homeless or hungry. I fought so that our kids and our future — I believe that kids are the future of this country — so that they wouldn't want for anything," he said. "So that they would live and be fed and have a home. If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can solve this issue."