Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The reality of volunteering

I’ve learned a lot about volunteering from my experience in reading to shelter kids. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that the exchange of money is often what makes people accountable.

On at least two occasions, my team of volunteers has showed up at the shelter to read, only to find that the read-aloud for that night had been cancelled and no one had bothered to let us know.

On the flip side, when I first started volunteering, there were several nights when no one on a team showed up to read and the children (who in many cases had already experienced rejection) were left abandoned in the reading room waiting for someone to read to them.

I have come to realize that if money were exchanging hands, probably neither of these things would have happened. But in both cases there was no penalty for the failure.

I’ve also come to see that it’s often the shit work that’s given to volunteers in an organization -- stuffing envelopes, making routine phone calls, fairly menial things.

These thoughts somewhat temper my enthusiasm to throw myself into a volunteer situation that involves a greater chunk of my time. Although one thing that appeals to me is the idea of volunteering in an animal shelter. It would have to be one that did not euthanize the animals (and I hear there is such a place in DC), or otherwise I just couldn’t stand to say goodbye and would probably end up bringing home every stray dog and cat destined to be killed.

If I could find the right volunteer job that showed me the respect and consideration I think I deserve and allowed me to make a contribution to society, I would sign up. But for now my monthly read-aloud at the shelter may be the extent of my volunteering efforts.


Blogger Laura said...

I have always dreamed of being a docent at Mount Vernon. I would do it volunteer but I think they are paid positions. You could work with people. You could work retail. You could offer tickets, etc! :) Live my dream! :)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

If I had time, I would become a victim advocate (because of my own experience with trauma) or possibly a child advocate. It takes a lot of time and dedication which I don't have at this point in my life...

1:11 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

You are right, Barbara. So often your efforts will not be valued if you generously give them away for free! And in "organisations" very often no one feels responsible.
So what is the solution? You invent something all on your own. Find a place on a prk bench or in some public place or open your living-room and read to kids there. Or hang up a sign at the shelter that you will be taking the kids who appear on an excursion to a museum. Anything that will involve ONLY YOU and YOUR time. Would that work?

4:37 PM  
Blogger Merle Sneed said...

Volunteers are under-appreciated, for sure.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'm not sure what I'd do. Volunteering is definitely under appreciated, but I keep doing it. With more time, I'd probably do more but I'm not sure it would make me happier.

11:03 AM  

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