At dinner with long-time friends recently, I was discussing a possible volunteer activity I might enjoy if I decide to settle in the town where I used to live. Lou asked me why I would want to volunteer. “They don’t pay, you know.”
Omigosh…where do I start?
I started by hating anything that smacked of committee work. Remember the seventh grade assignment where you had three other “partners” to get a project done and you wound up doing all the work? Yeah, that was my idea of committee work and thankyaverymuch, I didn’t need that!
In the fall of 1985 our local school district applied to be one of the schools to talk to the Teacher in Space. A lot of our parents were involved in the space program in some way, so it was decided we would get to talk to Christa McAuliffe. My local school “volunteered” me to represent them on the committee and I didn’t seem able to get out of it. Ugh…not a committee!!
The Air Force, the defense contractors, the industry in education people were not those seventh graders. They came through with even more than they said they would. Meetings were exciting. Every day was filled with phone calls from people offering yet more wonderful resources for our kids. I was hooked.
By the end of the decade, I had earned a few amateur radio licenses and got talked into taking on the job of emergency coordinator for a group of hams. For the next 8 or 10 years, I worked with city and county disaster preparedness officials and learned more about emergency communications than I would ever have acquired on my own. I also discovered I enjoyed leading people who were invested in the activity and brought their own skills to the table. Me, a leader??? Never in my wildest dreams…
Then we pulled the plug, hit the road, wandered around for a long time, and eventually settled across country in a rural area where we knew no one. Four months after we moved in, I figured out where the Extension Office Classroom was and showed up for my first Master Gardener training session. For more than a decade, MGs were my best friends. We worked together on projects in schools and day camps, trained together and shared innumerable potluck dinners. I learned not only that I was a competent gardener, but I became reasonably skilled at sharing that information with children and adults.
Have all my volunteer projects been rousing successes? Sadly, no way! I volunteered with the Red Cross when we first moved east. I was elected to the board and eventually became chairman. Then the director left and I tried to fill his shoes. Big shoes, not enough training or knowledge to fill them well. I kept the chapter afloat but barely survived. I learned a lot, again, but most of it I would have preferred not to have to learn.
Now I’m not sure where I will settle or what my life will entail. But it’s pretty certain that I’ll find something to do that will allow me to use skills too rusty to get paid for but skills, nevertheless. And while I’m using those skills, I will meet people, I will do things, I will go places and will become a part of the community wherever I am. Then I will be home.
What has been your best or your worst volunteer experience?