There’s No Feel Good Drug As Effective As Volunteering
Yesterday, I drove home from our local library with a huge smile on my face! I had just agreed to volunteer to help set up a book sale that would run during the town’s summer festival days. Boy, did it feel good to be back on the road to being a volunteer!
Since we moved to the midwest in 1999, I’ve had numerous volunteer roles. Most roles I kept for several years. Some roles, I even developed. But, the constant similarity among all of them is that I did the volunteering of my free will for an organization or topic on which I was passionate.
My first volunteering experience came through our local school system. I don’t think I imagined then that I would be a volunteer for education, in multiple areas, for 20 years! But, that’s how it turned out. PTO was not a good fit for me, even though that was my first foray into the world of volunteering. Despite knowing that I spent three years on the PTO, two as secretary, and co-chairing our basket raffle. At the end of three years, rife with all the politics and ulterior agendas that come with a parent-teacher organization (PTO), I had the confidence to say enough!
I still wanted to be active as a volunteer but I knew working through the normal channels was not going to make it pleasant for me. Forging my own path as a volunteer turned out to be a much better option.
Some of my volunteer roles have been:
- Founding and leading an elementary after-school garden club for students in grades two through five. (This lasted 13 years during which time I served over 500 students in my volunteer capacity as the “Garden Club Teacher.” It was always FREE, as was my time. It was also open to anyone in those grade levels at the elementary school my boys attended.
- Giving community presentations on plants, life cycles, and monarchs as a Master Gardener Volunteer. In addition to providing community education, I also volunteered to speak at three professional conferences on gardening with children. I was a certified master gardener volunteer in good standing (this means I met my service hours) for 15 straight years.
- Our local Children’s Museum took me on as a volunteer when my boys were little and I desperately needed to get out of the house. I went to them with an idea for a pre-school craft hour called Craft Time with Carol. This lasted three years and I credit the museum with getting me out of a stay-at-home-mom funk.
- I was a classroom volunteer several times a week at our elementary school. At the height of this volunteering, when my youngest was in fourth grade, I was at school four days a week for at least a couple of hours at a time. It helped that we lived just up the road, so there was virtually no travel time involved in getting to school.
- In later years, and more recently, when my boys were older, I served on district-wide committees for our school system. This included the Student Learning and Achievement committee, and more distantly, the Report Card Committee.
- I also founded a parent advocacy group for our district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) student population. This only lasted three years and threw me right back into the politics of a school system (like PTO). In hindsight, it was needed but also was probably a mistake. I think it put a target on my back. However, it took hours and hours of dedication and work to run the group, its meetings, and minutes for three years. It was a role filled with frustration, as I dealt with the preconceived ideas on TAG students held by others.
7. Additional volunteer roles have been for field trips — both locally and longer trips to Florida and NYC with our music students. The solo ensemble also needed volunteers when we hosted the regional competition at our high school. The same was true for hosting show choir competitions. Yes, I stepped up each of those times.
All in all, I learned some important lessons while I volunteered over the last twenty years. One of the most important things to ask yourself when you consider volunteering is if the organization means something to you. Ask yourself, “Is this important?” If the answer is yes, then you will reap rewards from the volunteering experience.
You’ll reap even more rewards if you volunteer for something that you enjoy.
Volunteering because “you are made to do it” or because you “need service hours” is not going to make you like it. It might even make it harder to do. You have to want to do it. You have to want to help, genuinely, help.
And, if those two considerations hold true, the volunteering will be easy, it will make you feel good, and you’ll want to keep doing it! I promise! Volunteering for something that is important to you- whether it be education, healthcare, libraries, sports, music, animals, etc. will make you feel good. Believe me, it’s better than any “feel good” drug out there.
So, when we moved to our cabin after selling our primary residence of sixteen years, I said I would look into volunteering. The opportunity to help came after I stopped in our local library to see if they needed any volunteers. In fact, they are hosting a book sale in two weeks.
Book sale? I love books! Sign me up to help, I told the librarian!
I’ll soon be a volunteer again and that makes me very, very happy!