Saturday, March 15, 2008


When I read articles about Big Brother/Big Sister programs and neighborhood associations, I always think I am colluding in the deterioration of the American social fabric by not volunteering. Then I think again and realize that's insane, I totally volunteer. I am on a board, and I just finished five years on a major committee; I run a big event at E's school; I bake for just about every bake sale and duly take my shift at ticket tables and cake walks; I organized community service activities for both E and M's religious school classes...made my point?

Part of the reason my volunteering doesn't feel like volunteering is because a lot of it uses the same skills I use in my work (uh, not the baking). So I can start my day (call it, oh, yesterday) with coffee with another board member (half gossip, half strategy), segue into a phone call with another mom working on the school event, and then meet with my boss--and it kind of feels like I'm always doing the same thing (I don't mean that in a complaining boring way, but in a descriptive way) (uh, I guess I'm revealing the fact that I'm not a dentist).

I'm also very strategic about my volunteering. I bake, because it's easy and needed, but aside from that, I choose things where I, me, Becca, with my specific skill set and experience, can make a difference. And I'm good at saying no--or ignoring requests for help, as the case may be. Now, S might disagree on that last claim, but truly, the requests pour in, especially from the school, some generic, some to me, but once I've got my volunteer agenda for the moment set, that's it.

And of course the goal of this post is to complain, because I wouldn't be me if I weren't complaining. When I volunteer, I figure out what I can do, and then I do it. I am meticulous, perhaps even punctilious (you know I just wanted a chance to say punctilious) about meeting my obligations--and this is another place of overlap between work and volunteering. But I know a lot of people who just say yes yes yes, who volunteer for everything, and then drive themselves into the ground and/or do a for shit job. And I fail to see the value in that. Aside from the food/shelter/health/education basics, if something doesn't get done, it doesn't get done, and it's usually better to not do it than to do it badly, or to make yourself crazy doing it. So if this year there's no barbecue...well, whatever (the barbecue is probably not endangered, just pulled it off the top of my head to make my point).

And don't even get me started about volunteer martyrdom...

(Hmm, this post also provides the opportunity to use the word sanctimonious.) (That would be applied to myself, not the volunteer martyrs.) (Or perhaps that should be martyr volunteers. Only I like volunteer martyrs better.)


Jenny Davidson said...

Since I have been teaching Clarissa this semester I am obsessed with the words punctilio and punctilious!

One reason I don't volunteer at all is that I feel a lot of my regular job has a strong volunteerish component and there is hardly anything useful I could imagine doing as a volunteer that would not make me feel even more driving-into-the-ground-like! It is my resolution for 2008 to say no more & stay calmer, you are quite right in your observations here...

jackie said...

Yes-- I always wonder where the line is between "volunteering" and being an active part of your community and its' institutions. My husband is on the board of several wonderful organizations in our city that do valuable work, I bake for bake sales and help out in my kids' classroom and donate time, money and supplies to my girls' public school-- but is that volunteering, or just doing our civic duty?