Life with Liz: Where are the volunteers?
Seventh grade is about to start, and with it, A gets to join the marching band. Known as “The Pride” of our local high school, the band is a pretty big deal. A has been looking forward to band camp, and the reunion with his buddies all summer, and can’t wait to go to all the football games this fall.
Although we are blessed with a talented and highly qualified professional staff, an organization of this magnitude can’t exist without the help of many, many volunteers. At the first parent meeting, we were advised that there would be many “opportunities” to help, starting with preparing and serving lunches during camp and fitting uniforms, followed by working in the stand during football games, and chaperoning the buses to away games.
I’ve mentioned before that I believe the best way to support my kids’ commitment to an activity is to show up and support that activity in any way that I can, as opposed to sitting on the sideline screaming ineffectively at them to score more or run faster or any other shenanigans that the helicopter parents on the sidelines carry out.
Typically, it’s enough to work in a concession stand or donate a food item here or there, but it has at times involved more, such as coaching or being the “team mom” or even taking on some kind of administrative role in the organization.
Sometimes, I’ve gotten in over my head, no doubt. A few years ago, G missed the age cutoff to play soccer by two months. G has always been a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to physical activities, partly because he’s been trying to keep up with his big brother since the day he was born, and partly because he’s just big for his age.
The previous year, G had spent most soccer practices trying to sneak out onto the field to play with “the big kids” and I knew he was champing at the bit to play. When we went to sign up, and he heard that he was still “too little” to play, the person accepting registration took one look at the tears rolling down his cheeks and reconsidered.
“Well, perhaps, if you were willing to help coach, maybe we could let him sign up a little early,” he said.
At that point, my total years of soccer experience were limited to gym class in grade school, and a few months of attempting to play on a boys rec team, where most of my time was spent on the bench. So, I had two choices. One, I could say no to G and spend A’s practice time trying to restrain him on the sidelines or, two, I could start learning how to coach soccer.
Within a few years, the age cutoff changed, and starting G “early” turned out to be a good decision, as he ended up right where he belonged. Eight years later and I am still coaching soccer and doing an assortment of other tasks that an organization that supports almost 400 kids annually needs to have done. All three of my kids love playing soccer and, like the band, I’m proud to have them belong to an organization that is as ingrained in the community as our soccer program is.
So I was a little taken aback a few weeks ago when our organization asked for a few more parent volunteers to help with coaching responsibilities for our youngest players, and it was met with an extremely negative response. Essentially, people took offense that an organization that they had already paid a registration fee to would dare ask for a time commitment from parents on top of that. The question was posed that did we not understand that parents have jobs and other children and other commitments as well and couldn’t possibly be expected to take on coaching, too.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so hurt or felt so underappreciated in all the years that I’ve been volunteering with various organizations, not so much for myself, as for the countless other volunteers that I know who balance multiple children, multiple jobs and multiple commitments to these organizations, because we want our kids to have the best opportunities that they can.
I’ve been around long enough to know that the volunteers who I see during baseball season, I will see again during soccer season, and band camp and at the PTA meetings.
I had a chuckle the other day when I realized that I had to add a first initial to the Coach B that I had in my phone as G’s baseball coach, because the husband was Coach B during baseball and the wife is Coach B during soccer.
I’ve also come to realize that the same people can’t possibly do everything, and when they try, eventually, they burn out and we lose valuable people with experience and knowledge that can’t be matched. I understand that coaching isn’t for everyone, but getting volunteers for anything these days seems to be getting harder and harder to do.
I’ve been sitting through an awful lot of local meetings where the items on the agenda include the consolidation or closing of our local fire companies because of a lack of volunteers. Every organization that I’m involved with that requires volunteers is hurting for members, and yet, seems to have more and more expectations placed on them by the people who use them.
Instead of coming into an organization willing to help, there seems to be an expectation that someone else will do it.
I don’t know how to motivate people to get involved. Volunteering usually isn’t glamorous. Sometimes, you get a great gift card for coffee or a gift certificate to a restaurant as a token of appreciation, but mostly, you’re just left with the satisfaction that you helped someone in some way and are helping a community tradition survive. As fewer people volunteer, eventually, these community organizations will dwindle and disappear, robbing many kids, your kids, my kids, everyone’s kids, the chance to belong to something.
So, the next time you’re asked to volunteer for something, and you really don’t feel like doing it, ask yourself if you’re going to be OK when that organization ceases to exist. Then ask your kids if they’re going to be OK with it. See if their answer doesn’t change your mind.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.