Volunteering for fun and (well, not!) profit!

Until I started raising small children I hadn’t really any idea just how important volunteers are in my local community. In my profession (a computer programmer, now consulting) I don’t come into contact with volunteers a whole lot, unless it is to pass people in the street collecting money for their cause. But in the world of small children, and schools, volunteers are pretty much *everyone* you encounter.

Obviously that’s a huge generalisation, but if I tried to enumerate for you all the different volunteers that I interact with now, I’d be here all week. I find it surprising just how much gets done in my community on the backs of volunteers.

My local primary school is a major hub for volunteer activity. There are the necessities, such as the P&C, uniform shop and canteen, which require a regular workforce of (to be honest) long-suffering parents. Then there are working bees in the school grounds, volunteer extra-curricular teaching (such as music lessons or gardening), you name it, the local primary school requires it in order to function. This doesn’t even touch on all the fundraising needs such as cake stalls, sausage sizzles, and the behemoth of the school year: the school Fete.

Having experienced 7 years of primary school parenting, I can say: here’s to you, volunteers! You guys are the trumps.

Well, many of you.

What about the parents who don’t contribute any time or resources to the school community? Do the rest of us judge them as being a bunch of slackers? … Yeah, pretty much!

All of us have times we can’t be available. Then there are times where we feel overworked and don’t want to be available. The volunteers you see in your community all around you are overcoming this last obstacle, turning up time after time even when they are pretty sick and tired of it all. So if you are the sort of person that never ever turns up, then you’re likely to be labelled as the person who simply can’t be arsed.

Why do we do it, then? Didn’t I write in the title that volunteering was for fun? Well … that’s not been the majority of my experience. Volunteering is rewarding, though. And without the volunteering, mostly it just doesn’t get done.

So, what do I do? I take a shift with the local Toy Library, which opens in the morning every Monday and allows families to borrow toys. This is an awesome service, if you have small kids. There is nothing so exciting as playing with a brand new toy. And with a toy library, you can get something new every single week! Change out the toy that has already been pushed into the corner. Experience the fun from the big expensive bulky toy princess castles, or the ride-in vehicles, or a roller coaster (!). Try out a toy you’ve considered buying, but are not sure whether they will actually play with it. And all for a yearly fee of $30. Pretty good, huh?

There aren’t many toy libraries around now, and our local one has been in danger of shutting down due to lack of volunteers, in recent times. So I decided that if I wanted to use the library myself, I should put my hand up and do some shifts to keep the place open. My efforts (it’s only once a month) plus the combined efforts of a bunch of like-minded people mean the library is staying open again this year. Yay!

Do I enjoy my time behind the desk? Sometimes its fun to chat with another librarian, if I’ve been lucky enough to have two on my shift. Lately it has been just me, which is harder. Mostly though it’s a bit of a chore because I need to count the toy pieces for every toy that goes out (to make sure the borrower has the expected pieces) as well as on return (so we know if any pieces have been left behind). Some of our toys have over 100 pieces! When I see one of the big boxes of Duplo coming out, I do experience a small moment of dread, especially if there’s a queue.

But you know what? The people borrowing toys are so nice and patient, and understanding, and we can always exchange a laugh about our kids going nuts in the background because they haven’t had their rice cake and little Timmy is having a turn in THEIR big car and can they pleeeeease go to the toilet NOW, mummy? And so on. This kinda counts as fun for parents.

I often get people saying “Thank you soooo much” for volunteering at the desk, when it’s really busy. Mostly people have gratitude in their hearts, and they think well of you for doing something that they couldn’t do. That does make me feel good. Before I volunteered, I felt guilty that I was at home with the kids, but not helping out. I felt that other people looked at me and wrote me down as a slacker (regardless of if this was true, or not). Now I don’t feel that way at all, and that feels really good.

I also volunteer as an Ethics Coordinator at my local primary school. I did this for entirely self-serving reasons, which was to enable those classes to run, and my daughter to be able to attend them. And yet now that she has moved on to High School, I’m still doing it. Why? Because I know that if I pull out, those classes might not be able to run any more.

This volunteering is a different kind, it’s organisation. I don’t have to turn up to a particular shift, which is handy. I just organise all the teachers so that I have someone covering all of their classes, if I can. The work comes in bursts, because mostly things just hum along by themselves, except when I have to train a new teacher, or at the start of the school year. Then look out email inbox: Ka-POW!

Both of these volunteering activities keep me pretty well busy enough that I feel like I’m “doing my bit”. They are not thankless tasks, and on the whole they allow me to connect up with other people and feel part of things. Volunteering is a great way to banish loneliness and isolation. 🙂


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