"Sailors plan for safety. For escape. For survival. Sailors rely on plans, on strategies that have worked before. Trust me, most mariners are conservative. We stick to the tried and true." Randall Peffer, "Listen to the Dead"

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Opportunity Knocks

     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.


Terra said...

I like how you have found two volunteering positions which suit you to a T. I have been able to keep on volunteering as a senior visitor to a retirement home, but in a different way; I make phone calls and send cards. One thing I find shocking is how many healthy retired folks do NOT volunteer. Nice people I know who don't volunteer.

Olga said...

I volunteered for a number of years at the local library where I used to live, just started again in the new community when things shut down for the virus. In Florida, I was volunteering for a program that used horses in physical therapy with children. I did a literacy program that was part of school field trips for area Kindergarten and 1st graders from area schools. That part of the operation is on hold now as well but I am managing to keep busy all the same.

Tom said...

Terra -- Come to think of it, my dad volunteered in town his whole life ... until he retired. Then he didn't do anything. I was kind of the opposite. Didn't do much while I was working, but now I do. Different people feel different callings, I guess.
Olga -- My wife wanted to volunteer at a place that uses horses in physical therapy. She applied. They didn't take her. We don't know why. But there's a wildlife sanctuary nearby looking for help, so she might do that in the spring ... ya know, once we get our shots.

BethC said...

I live outside of Philadelphia, and recently signed up for the CLR program at Delaware Valley University-sounds like you are referring to that program? In the fall, I ventured into the world of "senior" online education via Temple's OLLI program. I loved 3 of the 4 classes that I took in the fall, but Temple'a Winter offerings did not interest me as much. I signed up for 2 Temple classes, 9 CLR classes (with many meeting only once or twice), and 3 via Duke University's OLLI program. The calendars don't have a ton of overlap, so I think that I can keep up with it all and still practice part-time as a semi-retiree. We'll see..... I went to the DelVal CLR orientation and folks seem very collegial.

Barb said...

I so look forward to volunteering in person again..as yet the things I normally do are in-person although I hope that can change soon. Normally one full day is spent doing that. While I'll still mask post vaccine I hope to feel more comfortable going out and about if the opportunity opens up.

ApacheDug said...

Tom that's really wonderful, good for you. I appreciated the modesty you showed here about your own talents, as I just assumed people like yourself who volunteered were successful writers or formerly something else formidable. I haven't volunteered for 30 years, but back in the early 90s I was a "reader" for a couple blind people in my neighborhood (everything from their mail to romance novels). Doing something is worth thinking about, I do have a lot of time on my hands...

DJan said...

Thanks for the tips about volunteering. My own volunteer job terminated a few months before the pandemic began, and now I seem to have plenty to keep me occupied. But I do look forward to resuming some kind of volunteer work in the future. I am grateful for my three-times-a-week yoga classes, thanks to my yoga studio offering several options each weekday.

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

Good for you! It is so important to find a volunteer opportunity that fits... and if it doesn't, look for another. After being in Covidland for so long, I am so looking forward to getting out and about and feeling busy and fulfilled. My main criteria is that I have flexibility. With our (soon to be re-started) travel and my other interests, it's important that I am not committed to specific times and dates.

Unknown said...

Until the pandemic hit i had been volunteering at the local Maritime Museum where I had three differing roles.

Once a week I staffed the welcome desk and provided information and interpretation about the collection and the building itself (a beautiful WPA project).

Once a month I helped give tours of the steam-powered engine room of a large ferry boat.

Once or twice a week I crewed on a historic vessel. a 70 foot scow schooner, sharing insights into the vessel and the history of the San Francisco Bay.

All of these opportunities gave me a chance to learn about subjects I had little knowledge of and to interact with people who were visiting from around the World.

I hope to be able to return at some point in the future but I fear it won't be anytime soon.

Linda Myers said...

I rarely volunteered until I retired. Now I work with asylum seekers (or will be again soon). I'm taking half a dozen Olli classes and am a tech host.

We get our second shots on February 17 and two weeks after that I plan on doing a lot of walking and maybe giving a few hugs.

Tom said...

Beth -- Maybe I'll see you there. Unknown -- That sounds so cool! Hope you get back on board soon.

Anonymous said...

Since my retirement I have not wanted to be tied down, even for a volunteer job. My work life was crazy busy and left me little time for myself, so I've been kind of loving the freedom that comes from not having any commitments. When I worked, I volunteered to read to the print-handicapped (the blind, but also people who can't hold printed materials, for example) over the radio, and I loved everything about it. It made me feel good to be giving something back to a group that needed it, and reading is close to my heart. Unfortunately, the nonprofit organization is now defunct - if it existed, I would love to do that again. I'm not even taking any CLR classes this semester but I'm hoping to start that back up next time. Nina

Mona McGinnis said...

Hosting Home Routes house concerts, the local community association which hosted an amateur rodeo & other events, the cemetery association, volunteering at the lodge where my mom is a resident - there was always something. The sad part is that I'm starting to acclimatize to this dialed down life after a year of no volunteer commitments.

Wisewebwoman said...

I volunteer when I can and I agree it's very rewarding and also humbling. I am glad you are back in the saddle Tom as your days will be lighter and more engaging.


Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

So glad to read you're able to do your volunteer work again. Over the years, I've seen how important it is to you. And I applaud you for that.

Meryl Baer said...

I am too involved with two organizations. One is, like yours, an educational program. As co-program director I plan, organize, and continually look for instructors. ! love doing most of the work on Zoom. I think when I can travel again I will take a step back so I am not too committed to in-person obligations.

Carol Cassara said...

I have volunteered my whole life. Now, I mostly give money as I have so much else going on. I love the inspirational things all your readers do!

David @iretiredyoung said...

I feel that I should do some volunteering but I haven't found my thing yet, which feels like a selfish thing to say. Good to read your post, it gives me some food for thought.

Laurie Stone said...

Good for you, Tom! I'm glad you're getting back into the swing of things, even if it's online. I have a writer's workshop once a week via Zoom and its become a lifeline in this strange new world.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

What a wonderful thing that both you and your wife are doing. I occasionally teach people how to set up their websites, although I'm slowly stopping that and still work for a corporate trainer every once in a while teaching her clients how to send out DISC assessments. As someone who worked as an actress for decades, it great to know I have other skills.

gigi-hawaii said...

It is good to be a volunteer. I was one for my local church years ago.

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Anonymous said...

Only sometimes has it been easy for me to do volunteer work I've enjoyed.
I trained as a community mediator (requires so many hours of instruction) in 2007, did another 1.5 hours to do court-related mediations, such as small claims cases & FEDs (evictions) which I did for 7 years. All volunteer.
A year ago I learned of an opportunity to do something different--to do the mediation needed for a program called Second Home, that places (or placed) homeless highschool students in a family's home. While a rental agreement is created and can be used as part of a credit rating, no cash rent is paid. The high school student must be in good academic standing, can be a single parent. It's not the same as a foster parent relathionship, which is why some people prefer it. It took me several months to get anyone at the non-profit to return my emails (I think I emailed at least 3 people, at least two more then once). It took another few months to meet with a mediator and a manager of the program in another county--both were very pleasant, and shared materials and their experiences with me. Everyone I've emailed/spoken with has been very pleasant. But, after that meeting . . . nothing. I contacted the manager of the program for all counties (only 2, perhaps 3), several times, each time the problem was that no new program coordinator had been hired for my county. Then the SARS-COV-19 shutdown began in my state. It's probably time for me to email the statewide program coordinator again, just to let her know I'm alive and still interested. As with many non-profits funding is an issue as well.
This was a program I very much wanted, still want, to be a part of. It was a new way of applying my mediation skills, more as a faciltator then a mediator. I don't know if the program will ever restart in my county, although I'm sure it's much needed.
This program was never going to "solve" the county's homeless student problem, if only because of the selectiveness of student & host family candidates. But in the county it started in, it had helped some students very much. It provided them w/a safe experience in "renting" from and living with a different family, whether the family was a couple or a two adults with children until the student graduated. In a few instances, I believe the student was able to extend their "rental agreement" with the host family after graduation. It's a more optimistic/forward looking mediation opportunity then I've had in the past.
So, sometimes, it's really not easy to find a volunteer opportunity that's a good fit.

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