Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Are you a doer, a giver, both, or neither?

I can’t remember my first experience as a volunteer, although, during my childhood and throughout college, I was always helpful. But volunteering for a cause - it’s a blur; don’t think I did.

My parents were charitable when I was a child, but probably did not contribute time to a specific organization…well maybe their church. But they were very helpful to others when needed; doing things like painting, cooking, lawn care, car pooling, and child care. Both of them were employed, and for many years, my dad also had a part time job – all while sharing a car and using public transportation. Raising two kids, I doubt they had the energy and resources to volunteer on a regular basis.

I tell a little of their story because sometimes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” My brother and I followed their pattern – helpful, but not feeling obligated to do more.

Things changed when I was in my twenties.

Employed as a computer programmer in a corporation, single, and living in a new city, my life was in a rut and I needed something else. I thought of joining the U.S. Reserves, and then realized I was too chicken for that.

“What am I good at? Hmmm…reading. I’ll contact a literacy program and volunteer to tutor adults.”

Unfortunately, after going to meetings and training, the program failed to successfully link me with a student. Some drama probably occurred in my life, and that was that for the tutoring.

More years passed. I couldn’t seem to attach myself to a cause that I was willing to give time to, so I donated blood regularly and passed out envelopes to the neighbors for the heart fund; things like that. But because I was financially successful, I gave and gave and gave.

After marrying and having kids, I volunteered at church in departments involving children…because “I” had kids and felt that “I” should. Once, I volunteered in a children’s church class as the fourth person to come on board. Within a month, the other three women left and I found myself teaching the class. Frustrated, yet somewhat humored, I asked myself, “How did this happen? How did 'I' become the lead teacher!”

Well, I did it for two years. (Thankfully, there was a guide book!) I quit because, while it felt good to give to eager little children, my own children suffered before every class. The preparation and mad rush at home prior to getting to the class made me grouchy. I was stressed. They were stressed.

At another time, I tutored math at my kids’ elementary school a couple years.

Currently, I don’t have a volunteer title. I pitch in when I can.

At one time, I felt guilty. My peers were the room moms, the organizers for the fund raising, held positions with the PTA, worked the concession stands for the boosters, etc. “Why don’t I do these things?” I wondered. A few friends would tell me, “You’ve got three kids! Take care of them and don’t worry about the rest.” But then I’d think, “These other moms have kids, too.”

In conversations with my volunteer extraordinaire friends, I’ve been told:

“People know that I can get it done well and I’m dependable.”

“I was on the school board and I did that selfishly because my kids were in the system. I also volunteered for Sunday school because the teachers didn’t have their hearts into it. I saw a need and I volunteered for it.”

“The Lord blesses you when you put your hand to the plow.”

“I think volunteerism is expected of me and I expect it of others. The schools need a lot of support. If I see other people doing a lot more than I do, I try to step it up,”
she said with a big laugh.

They are the definite DOERS.

Eventually, my guilt dissipated. I realized it’s not about how many kids you have or your available time, it’s your personality.

I still volunteer, but it tends to be one-time events that I am able to enjoy.

Putting myself in a category, I’m a doer and a giver – but lean more towards giving. I’m quick to write the check or send in the store bought cupcakes, and I get just as much satisfaction as the person whose cupcakes are homemade.

Balance is required for most things in life. For example: gift baskets to the needy. Someone has to purchase the items and someone has to pack the items. There is no gift basket without both people.

My feelings on those who don’t volunteer: I don’t judge. There are many kind hearted people in the world who may be giving to others by doing something as simple as being a listening ear.
What are your feelings on the subject?

Ps. Dad passed away years ago, but Mom and brother have given time and energy to various causes since my childhood days; much of it involving children, the sick, and the elderly.