I’m an enthusiastic sort of person. When it comes to doing something, I usually bring high energy to the table. I’m also a giver; I like to help out when I can. When I take on a task, I have attention to detail that goes to the point of annoying even myself. Finally, I just like to do a good job. It’s for that reason that I throw myself into whatever I take on, in addition to maintaining all of the other activities that are going on in my life. I don’t give up one thing in order to do another; honestly, I spread myself too thin about 90% of the time. For that reason, people constantly tell me, “I don’t know how you do it!” I always coyly smile and give a “Pshaw!” but honestly, I don’t know how I do it either. I just keep on truckin’. I feel uncomfortable if I have less than four or five projects going at once; my brain is used to working overtime. It’s a sickness, I think.

All of this makes me the perfect volunteer.

When the kids came along, I was excited at the thought of helping out at their schools and with their extracurricular activities. After all, I have vivid memories of MY mom doing that when I was a youngster. She was often a room mom, helping my teachers out with various projects. She made costumes and props for school plays and she helped out with class parties. She was active in the PTA. She was my Brownie leader too. Goodness knows there are tons of other things she took on that I don’t even know about. She set a great example for me.

When the older boy started preschool, I not only helped out in the classroom but was also on the Preschool Board. When he (and a couple of years later, the younger boy) went to elementary school, I was the room mom (in both classrooms) almost every single year. I planned class parties, I visited the classroom to help with various projects, like when the older boy was in 4th grade and they did a huge interactive family activity day that was all about Space. I was there. I was a typist for the Writing Center. When they started with Cub Scouts, I helped with Halloween Cake Bake parties and Blue and Gold banquets. When they started with Boy Scouts, I took on (and still do) the task of typing up the programs for our Court of Honor award ceremonies. Jim and I planned our troop’s high adventure trips for the past four years. I help out at our temple; a couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I completely renovated our old, boring, same-old Purim Carnival and made a spectacular event during which fun was had by all age groups, not just the five-year-olds. And now, I’m into my second year as the secretary of the Lacrosse Club Board.

I have done all of these things gladly. Nobody ever held a gun to my head to get me to help. However, I have many days on which I regret raising my hand and wish that someone else did, instead. I have a couple of major problems with the current state of volunteerism in today’s world.

Here’s Problem Number One: I understand that many people out there think that because they work or because they have small children or because they’re too busy (I’m busy, too!) or because of any other miscellaneous reasons, they “can’t” volunteer to fill the positions needed in order to keep certain things moving in the world.

My answer to someone who tells me they’re too busy and “don’t really have the time” is this:

Many hands make light work*.

Remember “Little House on the Prairie”? In those days, people clamored to help a neighbor out, no matter what the task and no matter how much they had going on at their own homestead. In fact, they even made it fun, and Ma usually made fresh lemonade and apple pie.

Nowadays? Fuggedaboutit.

But I can forgive that. I get it that not everybody is cut out for volunteering, and not everybody wants to think out of the box in order to come up with ways to give an assist that fits in with their situation. When it comes down to it, NOBODY wants to take time away from their family. I sure don’t. My time is every bit as valuable as anyone else’s. But if it weren’t for people (yes, like me) stepping up to volunteer to do certain things, life would be very different. I happen to believe that if I put some time in to help run some of the programs that are important to my kids**, their lives will be enriched because those programs sometimes wouldn’t go forward without my help and the help of others. It’s a small sacrifice to give my kids a better life.

Which leads me to Problem Number Two: Some of the very people who won’t and don’t volunteer for classrooms, board positions, and committees tend to go one further and increase the work load for us. How? Oh, I’m glad you asked. Because I am in the thick of lacrosse season, I’ll use current examples.

As Board Secretary, a few of the major tasks of my job are:

*collecting all of the forms, including sports physicals, from every player (this year, it’s six different forms for each of 75 players) and alphabetizing them into a huge three-ring binder
*inputting all of their personal information (addresses, phone numbers, positions, etc.) into various charts as well as a Club Directory
*sending out team e-mails
*general communication with families

Did you do the math? I am in charge of collecting 450 individual pieces of paper. The deadline for these papers was the first day of tryouts a few days ago, and this deadline was publicized starting in December. I was chasing these pieces of paper down until the last minute. I spent HOURS e-mailing families to remind them of what they had yet to turn in, responding to e-mails in which I was told that “they thought they already turned it in”, and getting in touch with people to ask them for the information that they left blank on the forms that they did turn in.

I send out team e-mails to inform people of important club information like dates, times, and locations of practices, meetings, and games. You have no idea how many people don’t open these e-mails at all (I use Constant Contact, and with one click on their website I can see how many “opens” each e-mail has), and you have no idea how many e-mails I get that are replied DIRECTLY from the team e-mail I’ve just sent, asking a question that was clearly answered in the team e-mail.

I was contacted the night before practices started by at least four families, saying that their sons didn’t have rides to practices because both parents work, and could I help them figure out who to ask for help. (Wouldn’t you think of that when you sign your kid up for the program and start trying to solve that problem a little earlier? Just asking.)

I have been put into an impossible situation in the middle of divorced parents, when both of them insisted that I list him (and her) the primary contact under their son’s name in the directory. (Awkward.)

Are you getting the idea here?

All of these problems could be solved very easily. If these people would turn in forms on time, read my e-mails, figure out carpools (or ask for help) ahead of time, and get on the same page for their kids, they would make my job easier, and would cause me to have less regrets about volunteering in the first place. I can’t begin to add up the hours of unnecessary activity I’ve put in on top of my necessary tasks. I signed on to do the necessary stuff. The hours and hours of uncalled-for miscellanea? Not so much.

This is how people get burned out.

You know what happens to volunteers who get burned out, right? They begin saying “no” because the job starts feeling more like a major hassle than an act of goodwill. You know that little bit of time with my family that I sacrificed in order to volunteer? That little bit has grown into a big bit, and now, not only are the non-volunteers still getting their normal amount of time with family plus the comfort in knowing that things are being taking care of for them, but I am missing out on scads more time with MY family than I thought I would, I’m stressed out with a to-do list a mile long, and yet I’m the one who stepped up to do a nice thing. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So here’s the suggestion: if you don’t want to volunteer to be one of the people that keeps things moving in an organization that directly benefits you and your family, PLEASE don’t make more work for those who do. Make their job easier by taking care of the responsibilities that only you can do, and do that in a timely manner.

And then, make sure to thank that volunteer when you next see them. They’ll appreciate that you thought to do that.

Thank you for your time and attention.

*John Heywood (1497-1580)
**I’m not really only talking about kids’ programming here. If you don’t have kids, think about organizations that are important to you. Humane Society? The Red Cross? A local nursing home? Whatever.
***And if you’ve turned in everything on time, you might get a big kiss and a hug. Just sayin’.

©2010 Suburban Scrawl