May 28, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Volunteering

I grew up in a house where giving of one's time was the norm. My parents gave a lot of their time to various community organizations and passed this volunteer bug on to their children. I spent a lot of time helping my mother fold programs for arts events, and got into many fabulous concerts for free in exchange for handing out those programs. Volunteering at the local old age hospital was practically part of the curriculum at my elementary school and in high school I ran for student council and gave countless hours to school events and initiatives. Attending college, university and then caring for small children made it difficult to volunteer for several years, but once my children were more independent, I could not wait to get started again, and three months after moving to my present community I joined the local arts council. The following year I began teaching catechism at my local parish and volunteering at my children's school when I could.

Volunteering has always been a way for me to give of my time, use my brain, and challenge my organizational skills. I like the freedom of volunteering. I can give as much as I want to, but maintain a great deal of freedom and flexibility within my various roles, which allows me to be the wife and mother I need to be. Unlike a lot of paid work, I can set my own schedule and give myself a break on occasion because 'I'm only a volunteer.' I can work mainly from home, but enjoy the social aspect of working with others in a group setting as well. I can gain skills and knowledge, but I am seldom under pressure to do so. In my role within the arts council I have been able to fine tune my writing skills just by creating articles for the newspaper, applying for government grants, and penning official letters. In my role as coordinator for the after school program at my church, I have been able to work with children, whom I love, and improve my communication and organizational skills.

Without volunteers, much of the good work which is accomplished in our world today simply could not be done, and people who volunteer for organizations have to feel appreciated at some level. Volunteering also has to have an element of fun or levity, or working for free becomes a drag fairly quickly. All too often, volunteers experience 'burnout' from working too hard for too long without enough thanks and without that much needed levity, and organizations would do well to remember that. Most volunteers are happy to have a place to give of their time and energy, but none of us wants to be taken for granted or be treated as if we were low paid, entry level staff.

Most volunteer positions tend to have an expiry date in my opinion, especially the ones which require the most energy, and when a person begins to lose their zest and enthusiasm for their position it may be time for them to step aside and allow someone else to take over. I happen to be at that point with one of my volunteer positions. This year of teaching for and coordinating our church's after school program has not been a bad one. I have enjoyed the children as always and done my job with dedication, however, I believe in this and all situations, I would prefer to go out on a high note rather than wait until I am so exhausted that people, particularly the children, start noticing my waning enthusiasm. For, I am exhausted. When someone like myself who has dedicated nearly ten years to a program begins to have serious difficulty gearing herself up for another day on the job, it is someone else's turn to step up to the plate.

So, what will I do with all that extra time? For the past several years, and as noted by readers of this blog, I have been writing. I want to dedicate more time to that. I am at a point where writing has become this 'thing of great importance' to me. The arts council, too, is becoming more and more of a professional organization, and that professionalism takes time, energy and constant focus. My eldest daughter will graduate from high school next year and will need my time and energy, too. I know this because I have been through two graduations before, with my boys. My youngest daughter is becoming more involved in her musical theater program next year and I am finding myself morphing into that persona of 'stage mother' (but no, not that kind of stage mother, I hope). This year I have searched second hand shops for costume pieces and props, painted set pieces, and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. And, after witnessing my daughter act in her first show with the performing arts school she attends, I'm in for it! She threw herself into her role with wild, but disciplined abandon, and was so exhausted afterwards, but oh, so elated, too. Clearly, my personal and family situations are 'moving on' and I need to move with them.

This morning at 4 a.m. I lay awake composing my letter of resignation to our parish priest. It was a good one. I wish I could remember it. For the moment, however, I will just say, in the words of Porky Pig, "That's all, Folks!" 

Thanks to all my blogger friends for your patience. I will get to reading your posts soon. Our family dealt with some very sad news this week - the sudden death of a friend. This post was started mid last week and just finished today when I could finally turn my mind to it. I will have a new post up on my Stella blog soon, too, so please check back for that. 


  1. My condolences to you and your family and to all who loved your friend.

    And best wishes to you as you chart new territory. I remember leaving a volunteer position after 7 years. I felt guilty, but if I knew then what I know now, it wouldn't have been a hard decision.
    . It's really nice that the passion of caring and serving came from your parents and that you have passed it to your children.
    I'll be looking forward to blog posts about your new adventures!

    1. Thank you Anita.

      It has taken me months to make my decision, but I know it's the right one.

  2. Ah come on now, get a grip. That priest knows you and for all you say, after a hiatus, if he rings you up with another job, a different job, you'll do it.
    Quite frankly you were an idiot to do it for that length of time. Five years is long enough and six if you need to train someone up.
    Does your diocese send people to do courses in education to do some of those 'voluntary' jobs. Is there a Jesuit university in BC or is the nearest in Seattle or Gonzaga in Spokane. Well Seattle U isn't that far.

    1. Now, I know people in your part of the world use "idiot" as a sort of funny term of endearment, so I hope you meant it in the friendliest sense here ;) Otherwise, I might have to retaliate, and I'd rather not, really.
      Our diocese has all kinds of symposiums and conferences, courses and meetings, but of course they are all in Vancouver, so I have gone but rarely. There are a couple of Catholic colleges, one Langley on the Trinity Western campus and one at UBC. Until the late 70's there was a Catholic University in my home town of Nelson.
      I once dated a boy who attended Seattle U, so that was as close as I got to that place.

  3. You know when it's time to move on. All of the volunteering I've done was through my kids' activities - youth sports, school, etc. So when they moved on to other things, it was natural and expected for me too and it wasn't awkward to leave. I think volunteering is a great way to have a feeling of purpose while still keeping other priorities tops. And some of my best friends, I've met through volunteering. Win win!

    So sorry about the loss of your friend.

    1. Thank you for your point about meeting friends through volunteering, because that is how I have met many of my closest and best.

      And thank you.

  4. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss Rebecca, and it somehow makes the song you posted on my blog even more pertinent and touching.
    I can totally relate to all that you say about volunteering. I came to it rather later in life, but have never looked back. I agree that voluntary positions have a shelf life and that sometimes it can be difficult to cut the tie. But, the wonderful thing about volunteering is that there will always be something else waiting around the corner, and the sense of being valued is never too far away. I can't imagine life without it now.

    1. Thank you Jane. I heard the song in a shop soon after my friend died and thought it would be a good one to do for any choir.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about volunteering. I know you do some wonderful work!

  5. I am sorry for the loss of your friend and send condolences to the family too.
    It sounds like you are listening to your heart concerning your changes in volunteer work. And that is always the right decision to make.

  6. oh i am sorry for the loss of your friend...
    and good on you for making that decision...some people stay in those positions well past their prime...and think no one else can do it, or will want to ...but it creates a vacuum and it will be filled...great decision though


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!