Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

{December 3, 2009}   Embracing your Island of Misfit “Volunteers”

Lots of Libraries and Library Volunteer Managers turn away volunteers that are mandated by some agency or another to do community service. Let me just tell you point are missing out on some great people. Library Volunteer Managers and other non-profit Volunteer Managers find themselves in this catch 22. Do we offer to be an agency to benefit the community by taking in required community service? or do we set out volunteer opportunities and only fill those positions with our patron base who want to volunteer willingly?

Not many libraries accept Court Ordered Probation, TANF, Welfare to Work, Workfare, SCSEP, or Adult and Teen Disability Job Training to name a few. If the policies are set, you work within guidelines and procedure, have staff support and agency backing, then it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.

I sat down with our County Chief Probation Officer and said, “OK…this is what I do, these are our projects, these are the hours given, this is who we can accept…what fits in with your needs and goals?” We worked together on the list and our goals and voila…a wonderful partnership was formed. In a few weeks, Weekend Probation Work Crews will be assembling wooden stops to go on our AV shelfs to keep our AV/DVD/VHS from falling behind and slipping into  no man’s land along with the dryer socks.

I partnered with IMPACT and Welfare to Work to offer community service to those on assistance. A lot of what we do is understanding the system. People don’t just sit and collect a welfare check. Those getting assistance must work 20 hours a week in the community on job training, and put in 10 hours a week looking for a job. I have volunteer who is very concerned with losing her TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Her volunteer work has been excellent and she hopes to one day work here. She’s developed an enjoyment for what she does, and surprisingly…work can be fun! It’s all about finding the right match. She also is able to take advantage of our free computer training classes. Required service brought her in the door, but other things are making her want to stay!

SCSEP isn’t any different. Our Seniors in this program are great volunteers and through a grant, they are paid to come in. I mentioned before working with several job training organizations. Everyone is nervous at those initial meetings, I had a job coach and a client from an agency working with teens with disabilities sitting in my office for an initial evaluation and interview. As I’m talking to the job coach, the client spun around in the chair and was yelling obscenities. I kept my cool and continued to go over safety procedures with the job coach.

I keep lots of toys in my office, rubik’s cube, wind up toys, Etch a Sketch, magnets, etc.  I continued to talk to the job coach and grabbed a couple wind up toys, a turtle crawled across my desk, a kangaroo flipped, an ape skipped a wire rope. The client began to settle down. The job coach looked at me and said, “No one will take us. We’ve been turned away from 4 other agencies.”

EVERYONE gets nervous and EVERYONE reacts differently.  Baby steps and close supervision… we’ll be ok.”

They have been with us for 2 years now. It’s great to see the improvement and independence and confidence that has been gained on the client’s end and the family and job coach are happy and I’m happy.

I also need to tell you, I don’t always take everyone. I have an incredible GUT feeling sometimes and that’s the best thing to go off of. What’s in your gut, in your heart and in your head can all be different. I took a risk and went out on a limb with these misfits, and I’m so glad I did.


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