This past week I started up my volunteer jobs again, after several months of doing almost nothing. I volunteer as a tutor with our local literacy group, and as an instructor at our senior learning center.
I haven't done much tutoring for almost a year. Last spring the semester was cut short in March. There was a fall semester, but I was just a fill-in. Now I've been assigned to a regular tutoring schedule, and will be working on Zoom once a week for the spring.
The last senior learning class I did was the first week in December. Now, starting next week, we'll be in full session. I host three classes, and take two others as a student.
So after months of drifting through the days without much to do, I'll finally be engaged with other people. I'll finally feel like I'm doing something worthwhile -- beyond just killing time by doing crossword puzzles, watching Netflix, and reorganizing the house.
My wife B also volunteers at the learning center. But she focuses more on organizations that help feed and clothe disadvantaged people. I think that's important, and I'm glad that she does it. But it's not my thing. I'd much rather help people learn -- on the theory that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime. But I'll be honest. I'm a little selfish. I get bored dishing out meals. I like tutoring and instructing. So that's what I do. That's a great thing about volunteering: there are lots of different opportunities.
It's not hard to find a volunteer job. In fact, once you do, people usually try to get you to do more. I started out teaching one senior class. Now I'm involved in three.
|Our senior learning center|
You don't need any special skills or knowledge. You can collect clothes or pack lunches or drive people to appointments. But if you do have a skill, it's all to the better. We have a couple of computer experts who lend their expertise to our learning center. We have retired teachers who spearhead our ESL program.
I majored in English in college, so I don't have much of a specialty. I don't teach a history course or computer workshop. I lead discussion groups, since discussion -- aka shooting the breeze -- seems to be the only thing I can do. I'm living proof that you don't need a real skill, or have to be particularly gifted, in order to help out people in your community.
All you really need is an interest in something ... anything. You have to be sufficiently motivated to do some work and not get paid for it. But if you find some position that engages you, then it makes it worthwhile.
I guess you need to have a desire to help other people. But by volunteering you also begin to realize that by helping others you are also helping yourself. You learn things; you meet people in the community; you get a feeling of accomplishment.
You do have to be dependable. If you set up a class or a meeting, you have to show up on time to host it. It helps to have some common sense. As a volunteer you often do not get a lot of supervision or direction. You have to make some decisions on the fly ... you're doing what's right, not what the bureaucratic rulebook says. One exception: I was told never to meet with anybody one-on-one outside official channels, to avoid any possibility of bad behavior or false accusations.
Most volunteer jobs involve other people, so it doesn't help if you're angry or cynical or determined to foist your opinions on other people. Volunteering is not about you. It's about others.
You might also have to have some patience. Some of the people I've tutored have missed class or shown up late or didn't do their homework. You have to realize that it's not because they're lazy or unmotivated. It's because they had to work late, or their car broke down, or one of their kids got sick. People really do have other responsibilities, other pressures.
Finally, it helps to have a little humility. Several people in my senior learning classes have more advanced degrees than I do. Some of the people I tutor are smarter than I am. They just didn't have the opportunity to go to school. I'm reminded of the 40-year-old guy who could barely read, and couldn't write a decent sentence. Then I found out he had started and was managing a successful auto-body shop -- something I could never do -- and was now taking classes because he felt it was finally time to get his GED.
Maybe that's the real reason why we volunteer -- to discover that there's a whole other world out there.