Look it up.
Plenty of people don’t opt to work in the helping professions. Personally, I don’t get it, as we know that I think social work is the most fun. (No, really.) But people are called to all different careers. There are many jobs to be done. My stocks aren’t going to trade themselves.
Stop laughing. I could have stocks.
Many people who aren’t in the business of helping others still like to make time for it. Giving money is great, and Flying Spaghetti Monster knows we need it. But there is nothing like actually seeing what you’re supporting, and interacting with the people.
Volunteers (there’s the Tennessee connection) are great. They’re necessary. They help us to get things done that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Of course, there are those times when they’re…not the best.
You never want to let that out there. We always appreciate people that want to help. Sometimes it just seems like they don’t know the best way to go about it.
In my days at Anonymous Youth Center, we had a few Saturdays per year when we would have to come in, to do projects with corporate or college volunteers.
If there’s one thing someone working fifty hours per week for $21,000 a year wants to do, it’s work on Saturdays.
Honestly, I didn’t mind. Much. We needed to get things done. But it’s remarkable how getting things done can create more work for us.
There were meetings, of course.
“Well, we need to clear out the garage.”
“No, we can’t ask them to do that. There are spiders in the garage. You guys will have to do that another day.”
We found other projects. Painting rooms, clearing tree branches from the playground–the things that always need to be done, but you never have time for when there are seventy kids climbing on everything and you’re primarily trying to keep them from setting one another on fire.
Of course, the volunteers there on the weekend were a little disappointed to not interact with the kids. In this case, that meant that they took it upon themselves to invite some neighborhood kids over for pizza.
This is my one day to not interact with children. Especially those children. You know the ones. The neighborhood kids who never seem to be in their houses, who don’t come to program but are always hanging out outside, trying to start fights with the kids who are enrolled.
And they’re getting my free pizza. But I can’t say anything, because–volunteers.
Sometimes the volunteers show up when the kids, or other participants, are there. Which is also great. We had some at Anonymous Youth Center. Some were great. Some clearly thought that because our children lives in a poor neighborhood, and had difficult home lives, they should be indulged. I’m not 100% against this, but you can’t bring your favorite kid ice cream and leave the other forty out.
Unless you’re an asshole. You also can’t cover for a child who I put on time out for breaking the rules, saying it was actually your fault. 1. The kids don’t need to be protected from discipline. 2. I don’t want to, but I will yell at you in front of the children.
For the past couple of years, we had some corporate group (is it racist to say they all seem the same to me?) provide our teens with an evening of ice skating. Yay! I love ice skating! And somehow it’s never as fun as it is when you have three usually tough, cool, put-together adolescents, clinging to you and shrieking that they’re going to fall. (Then they fall.)
But they have their standards, this group. They want a list of who is coming a month in advance. At least fifteen kids. And they want us to the skating rink, an hour away, by 3:30 pm. Did I mention that we had one day to get this done?
A lot of my clients don’t have working phones. This means running around the Bronx, like more of a maniac than usual, in order to find out who will commit to allowing their children to go ice skating. Ice skating isn’t something a lot of our kids do regularly. Their parents are reluctant to say yes. Especially when I pull out those forms that absolve us of legal responsibility if their kids die. Rudimentary reading skills, language barriers, and parental protectiveness often combine to make parents see those as, “If your child is bleeding to death, we’re just going to ignore her.”
It’s also not easy to get to this place at the time they’re asking. Most of our kids don’t have school days that end at three pm. My readers will be shocked to hear that Anonymous Agency is not located in the shadow of Central Park. As I’ve mentioned, clients, particularly the teens, are not noted for their punctuality. I can promise to have some kids there at 3:30, or a lot of kids there by five, but I can’t promise everything.
I want to appease the people offering this trip. It’s a great opportunity, and a really nice thing for the kids. But isn’t the most important thing that
I the children get to enjoy this trip?
Similar issues come up with donors. A few times now, we’re gotten some really nice clothing donations from stores. It’s a great thing for them to do, and it’s a lot of fun to go through bags of new, legitimately fashionable (I hear) stuff with participants.
But of course, we need to keep the donors happy. Which, apparently, involves drilling into the recipients’ heads that they were to wear these clothes, not sell them. If the stores find out that these items are being resold, they will
cut a bitch terminate our relationship. I was told that I should be suspicious if someone took something that was clearly the wrong size for them.
Sure. “Hey, fatty! Are you kidding yourself with that size two? Get outta here.”
I was also forbidden from throwing out a NordicTrack that was donated to us by a longtime financial supporter, back at the youth center. I realize that some of our kids need exercise (five year olds shouldn’t be circular, right?) but have you ever tried a NordicTrack? It’s impossible. Stationary cross country skiing is just not the best for children ages five to thirteen. Neither was that Thigh Master that we weren’t allowed to get rid of. And it was creepy.
So often, we’re torn. We want people to care, but we don’t want their desire to help to put us out. Sometimes I feel like we put volunteers and donors in a damned-if-you-do type situation. “Ugh, people don’t care enough to get involved! Oh, you’re going to come play with the kids one day, well what we need is money! You’re writing a check? Well anyone with enough cash can do that!”
You have to make the volunteers feel good. Like I said, we need them. We need their money, their time, their support. And it is a good thing to be doing, no question. This is what we want from people, right? We want them to care, and to try to understand the people we’re working with and the very real needs that they have. So we need to be understanding when it comes to accommodating volunteers. Understanding their schedules and restrictions, and acknowledging that their intentions are good, even when they don’t entirely understand what they’re getting into.
And they need to understand us. Yes, it’s more fun to volunteer by holding babies, or reading aloud to well-behaved children, but that might not be where the need is. Sometimes we need people to go through the garage and clear out the spiders, or help supervise the ill-behaved teen boys basketball team.
Ultimately, all of us (on both sides) need to remember that it’s about the participants, and what they need, rather than us. As simple as it is, that one thought has kept me from tearing my hair out on countless Saturdays and late night ice skating trips.
But if we could get some volunteers in to address the office mouse situation, that would be great.