It’s that time of the year when folks talk so much about New Year’s resolutions and goals. Because I create goals throughout the year when needed, I don’t generally do that anymore but I do self-reflect about what I’ve learned from the prior year.
I volunteer at a great organization that serves kids who are in foster care. I knew it was the place for me when during the orientation, one of the kids came in and interrupted the volunteer coordinator’s presentation. The kid actually wasn’t a kid. He was over 18 years old and had participated in the program for years.
Instead of berating or talking down to the guy (The organization does a great job ensuring the kids are respected while there.), the coordinator gently explained the purpose of the orientation. The “kid” had said he wanted to volunteer and when he finally understood that he would be given the opportunity to volunteer, he couldn’t contain himself. It was a great thing to witness.
I volunteered over the months and signed up for the Christmas party. I was looking forward to seeing the kids experience all the goodies that the special event entailed.
As volunteers we were assigned to various stations. My first station was the bouncy thing but not too many kids came during our time.
The second station that I manned was Candy Lane. The kids were given a good amount of candy. The candy was donated by one family I believe. There was a family that stayed there the entire day so I’m guessing those were the folks who donated the candy.
As I had been doing since I started volunteering there, I intentionally tried to make connections with “our kids” as they came through the line. All the regular volunteers did. That’s basically are responsibility as volunteers.
So as the kids came through Candy Lane, I gave them candy, asked questions, made jokes, talked about Santa, etc. One of the women from the family basically told me I was doing it wrong.
I was put off for a bit but then ignored her so that I could continue connecting with the kids. These are the kids that I saw the Saturdays before and after the Christmas event. My involvement in their lives wasn’t once a year for a special event.
After the holiday party, I still thought about the woman telling me how to handle the candy. I wanted to know why her statements bothered me so.
- I have spent between 4-5 hours just about every Saturday with those kids and another 2 hours commuting. I am committed to those kids and think of them as my little cousins.
- I wonder if they are ok when they go home.
- I cringe when I hear a foster parent yell at them.
- I think how to be as authentic as open as possible when around them.
- I want them to know I care about them.
- I care about them every day and not just 1 Saturday a year. I think this is what bothered me the most.
I used to want to volunteer on Thanksgiving and Christmas and thought it was “unfair” that I couldn’t just go to the LA Mission and do that. I mean my heart was in the right place. Or was it?
Besides witnessing the joy from the “kid” who wanted to volunteer at the orientation, we were also told 2 other things. I’m paraphrasing:
- We would get more out of volunteering than the kids.
- The organization wasn’t really looking for folks “giving back” or “giving to the less fortunate”.
After my first day of volunteering there, I totally experienced #1. My daughter and I both said we got more out of it than the kids. We were so excited on the drive home. There’s something about kids and especially kids that gone through rough times that inspire you. Make you understand life more. Make you love more.
And the Christmas party made me possibly understand #2. Maybe the family didn’t consider what they were doing as giving back to the less fortunate, but it felt that way. It felt like what they were doing wasn’t really about the kids. Or if it was about the kids it was very temporary. It seems to me that when some folks “give to the less fortunate” seem self-serving, condescending, a show of pity, dealing with a feeling of guilt and a disconnect from those who they are supposedly helping. That is how I felt as I worked the station, not just being told what not to do but also how some of the family members interacted with the kids.
I don’t know for sure their motive and I could be totally wrong but that event sparked something in me.
So my conclusion? I won’t volunteer at a special event put on by an organization that engages on a regular basis with those they serve, unless I’m totally behind the scenes. I don’t want to be a person who comes in once year but didn’t find the time to volunteer any other time of the year. Volunteering is not the way to rid any guilt of being more fortunate.
Not going to say I’m trying to help someone else when I’m just trying to help myself…all to make me feel better about myself.
Nope. I’m going to try to be the most honest I can be…in all areas of my life. Including my business life. I will try to dig deep and ask myself the tough questions. Starting with: why am I doing what I’m doing?