Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

{May 24, 2011}   Answering the Call~

{May 23, 2011}   friends of all kinds…

One of our volunteers, Eleanor,  took several months off to take care of her constant companion and friend, Max. Max had trouble getting around, had several surgeries, and needed constant care. I checked in with her periodically to make sure she wasn’t wearing herself out as a caregiver and she said she’d do what needed to be done to make sure Max was being cared for, not in so much pain and to ensure that Max knew that he was loved.

Right before Christmas, I got the call from her that Max had passed away. She was heartbroken. I sent her a card and told her that no one could have had a more special friend to care for him while he was ill then her. They were good friends.

Around February, Eleanor decided that she needed her mind on something else, and that she needed to be busy again so Eleanor came back 1 day a week. We sat in my office and chatted and laughed about Max. How even though he was arthritic, he would still be able to crawl up into her lap. How he’d put his cold nose on her cheek when she fell asleep in her chair…how he slopped water everywhere when he drank…

…what?…oh, I’m sorry, I thought I mentioned it earlier…Max was her black lab. Her big baby, her constant friend and companion.

I had another volunteer who’s son moved out and when he moved was unable to take his black lab puppy. Already in some financial hardship, this volunteer noticed a bin I had set out for dog food for the WALOP (We All Love Our Pets) for Meals on Wheels and the Pet Food Bank that our local Humane Society sponsors. He explained that he and his wife just fell in love with “that little rascal” and he’s brought such joy to their house, but he’s eating more than they are now.

Eleanor saw the bin outside my office and asked about it. I explained what it was for and faithfully, every week she’s brought in dog food. When I told her about the lab puppy, she’s earmarked all of her donations “for the man with the little max”.

She’s not ready yet for another dog, it will take time, but for now, she’s taking care and loving another dog, even if its not sitting in her lap.

I try so very hard not to be negative but I’ve had a heck of a month so far. I took some time off on Friday to do a break out session on volunteer management and so I was making up some hours on Saturday. I had already set several appointments so I was getting people in and out, working out community service plans and assignments and had planned on staying the afternoon. I had a very busy personal morning running around town so for Saturday afternoon, rain was in the forecast so I thought it was just a good time to buckle down and finish up some loose ends.

My first few meetings were pretty cut and dry. National Honor Society students, all pretty simple. I like working with the students and it seems that my reputation is preceding me among this age group. Kids will talk, text and tweet and when I have one appointment set, they always seem to bring friends…

My next meeting was a little more aggravating. Why does it seem that professional and advanced degreed individuals on probation hold an elite attitude when it comes to their community service? I was presented with several resumes on Saturday. Listen, you got the same offense from driving home from a Champagne tasting just as you would have if you were playing darts and beer pong. I don’t need to know your degrees and the details of your professional busy life. What I will tell you is that I’m a professional as well and as long as you may have been practicing dentistry, I too have been honing my skills in this job. Geesh!

I was beginning to sink a little lower in my chair after this barrage of volunteer. I knew the work day would be a little challenging considering my previous screenings with all these individuals by phone so I set them up in an order I could handle…quick and high energy-high school students, smart but know it all professionals, and needy and I want…workfare.

Not only did I hand out the workfare assignments but I was also asked to write an appeal letter to help someone get back in to college (which I denied for the reason that if you can’t write a letter explaining why you dropped out in the first place by yourself, why would they pay for you to go again???) and help someone apply for disability benefits. Ok. I felt that I didn’t help the first person with their letter, so I better explore the disability benefit help. Going for the win/win, I pulled up the government page for the application process.

“oh…I know how to do it, I just need someone to do it for me. I don’t have time to do it…”

“well…is it because you are working? It looks like there are several ways to apply, phone, letter and online…”

“I know..I just don’t want to do it…”

“You want to apply for disability benefits, but you don’t want to apply?”

“well…I’m busy.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, exactly what is your disability?”

“I have a callous on my toe.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say that your disability is that you have a callous on your toe?”

“yes, when I leave here, I’m going to soak it and work on it.”

“I see…”

I can’t believe this actually was happening and unfolding before my eyes and ears….I had just had my blood pressure screening done not 4 hours before this meeting and I was borderline going to be admitted to the hospital for being a stroke risk. I felt my pressure rising, my face becoming red, a pulsing in my head…and if I had a mirror, I’m sure my eyes were bulging out with a cartoon thermometer hovering above me throbbing….

Now, I’m not that cold and insensitive…I understand serious foot problems, but she showed it to me…and it was a very normal…callous. For Real? Get a ped egg!

I paper clipped all of her handouts, her work assignments, my form letters, and a copy of the email I had sent the trustees explaining her assignment and work fare and handed it across the desk with my card…I also jotted down the number of the local  Work One agency and told her that they may be a better option to assist her with her application process.

“oh..I’ve already talked with them…and they did the same thing you just did, I just want someone to fill it all out for me…you know.. do it for me… I work 4 hours a day 3 times a week, and have teenagers at home, plus my toe…I’m busy…”

My  Jimmeny Cricket inside me was yelling “danger…danger…”. I furrowed my brow, put on my best I-totally-understand-face and nodded and smiled.

“yes…I’m sure it’s very hard for you….”

As she got up to leave…I got up to leave as well…forget it…I give up…but not before I slipped a baby aspirin under my tongue….

{May 21, 2011}   Volunteers are EVERYWHERE!

I supported 4 agencies that were all inspired and staffed by volunteers this morning in less than 2.5 hours. Whew!

First I went to a free stroke screen at our local hospital. I had thought that it was just an extra work day for the nurses and staff, but they were giving their time and promoting services. Very cool. (For those concerned about me. I’m high risk and I left in tears. Luckily, I was not immediately admitted, but I was told to contact my physician no later than Monday….Yowza….)

Feeling heart broken..over my health… I walked out and could see from the exit across from the parking lot of the hospital that they had set up a local farmers market with about 40 vendors across the lot…and me being me, I marched right over and set out to chat with several new friends and found out that through grass roots efforts and volunteers, vendors were set up and everything under the sun was presented. I went looking for garlic…since it’s good for the heart ….and found out mid June is the best time for fresh garlic…I’ll for sure be back for that. I saw one vendor selling herbs and next to it was a sign that said Master Gardner Sale at the Fair grounds…

I loaded my lettuce and green onions into the truck and then headed over to the Fairgrounds in town. You know how much I love the local Master Gardeners. They’ve worked with me at the library on our grounds so I just had to go support them…I purchased several varieties of Iris and was told instruction on how to replant them (DO NOT BURY THE RHIZOME!….ok…can you tell me that without the pitchfork and stern tone???)

Ready to call it a morning, I decided to go through town and saw that a road was blocked off. I was being curious and to my surprise saw people on beds racing down the street. It was a bed race to support our Boys and Girls Club. I had to cheer them on, so grabbed a decaf (my first step in heart health..) and cheered and chatted with my friends from B&G and the Parks Department.

Volunteers are everywhere! The more you support them in your community the more creative and fun things there will be in your community! Get out there and make it happen 🙂

{May 20, 2011}   Planking…

I’m not going to turn it in to a volunteer activity or anything, but I must admit that I am intrigued with the latest craze called “Planking”. First off, planks are probably one of the most difficult core exercises I’ve done. In both my spinning classes and my boot camp, several hours ( seems like hours) are devoted to the plank. So why anyone would plank for fun is beyond me.

But, it seems as of late, that planking has moved beyond fun and into the more dangerous and deadly. Planking off a moving car? Planking on balconies 7 stories high?

Let’s keep planking a little closer to the ground and a little less dangerous. Teapotting seems to be the next craze, created by 2 teachers who were using it as an example of how strong the social media is. This version of “teapotting” is standing in front of various places and striking the “I’m a little teapot, short and stout” pose and snapping a photo.

You won’t see me “planking” on a stack of books here at work, but I must admit, I do give the guy planking on the camel humps snaps for most creative.

For all the Probation and Community Service Hour Volunteers out there, I respect you and understand that humans make mistakes, break laws and just plain ole have bad luck. I won’t make you scrub toilets with toothbrushes, and I will give you satisfying and valued tasks to complete, but just remember a few of my rules….

  • When you are doing court ordered community service, just because we are a library doesn’t mean you can dump your children under 8 years of age off in our children’s department while you volunteer
  • When you are given 15 different places to work off your service hours, contact all of them, not just the one place you want to go. Because if I can’t get you in, you may be in trouble, and its not my fault.
  • Your stress is not my stress
  • Remember I’m not the one that committed the crime
  • Also, remember, I’m the one that has a good relationship with your probation officers, I’m not going to join in and agree how unfair and how unjust they are, this includes our law enforcement and judges and our county
  • If you choose not to come, that’s your choice. I’m not the one that will be scrambling to get my hours in at the last minute
  • If you don’t come in, I’ll give your task to someone else
  • Just because you like the library, doesn’t always mean we like you
  • If you are found in violation or non compliant, it’s not my fault. I will not accept collect calls from jail to “get you out”
  • I may be “cool” but I’m not an idiot. I will dismiss you if you disrespect me or any of my coworkers…

I don’t judge our community service and probation volunteers, but I need to weigh and measure the value of their service that helps us vs. providing service to the community. This week, the balance was not tipping in my favor!

{May 18, 2011}   Patience and Perserverance

Two of our vocational rehab volunteers have gotten jobs in the past 2 weeks. I’m really proud of them. One of them will have a job coach with him, but the other is completely independent.

The first time one of our vocational rehab volunteers got a job I wanted to cry. Not only did he get a job, he got an apartment, learned the bus system and found a girlfriend all around the same time. He was like a little caterpillar in his cocoon just waiting and waiting until the right moment to sprout his wings and flutter around. I was so happy for him.

We had a dry spell for a long time until I got a phone call from another of our voc-rehab volunteer’s mom. She was crying and I spent a few minutes trying to calm her down in order to  find out what was wrong. It seemed that her daughter who had been volunteering with us at first with a job coach and then more and more independently, took the bus to volunteer. She got on by herself, made it, did her task, got on the bus and returned home. All without incident. Her mom was crying because she was so happy.

It was then that I realized that small successes aren’t really that small. Putting on a clean shirt to volunteer, brushing your hair, brushing your teeth, getting out of bed, shaving, wearing zippered pants and not sweats….all these things are taken for granted but when you suffer from a disability, a mental illness, depression, abuse…learning these things or gaining this skills are major accomplishments.

The one volunteer who will work independently has suffered from abuse her whole life from her mother. She’s in her 50’s and still carries the verbal and physical scars that were set upon her. Low self-esteem, eating disorders, illness, depression. Here she is valued, appreciated and loved. I tell her that she is loved every time she comes in. When she told me she got a job, she said it would be embarrassing to tell her mother that she was working in fast food. I told her, it’s job, I’m proud of her! She still felt deflated. She said her mother had told her of all her siblings, she thought she’d be most successful, and because of that she has struggled her whole life and now was embarrassed to tell her mother of her new job.

I told her that she has a son that is teaching college courses in Germany. He’s a scholar, a good son, a good person, someone who loves and cares for his mother, and is taking advantage of all the opportunities that she sacrificed for him, and he appreciates that.

Her success is not in flipping burgers, but in the fact that she raised a good son, who will add to this world in ways we don’t even know yet. But, he’s where he is right now because of her excellent  parenting skills, her nurturing and her love. She is successful.

Sometimes we all need a realty check in how we measure success.

{May 17, 2011}   being neighborly

You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family and you certainly have very little, if any,  control on picking your neighbors.

When we moved from our house to our new community we moved so suddenly that we didn’t move into a house, we moved into an apartment…to get a feel for the community and where we wanted to be, and all of the overthinking that happens when you are over educated.

I hadn’t lived in an apartment in years, and the one I did live in was a restored 2nd floor apartment in a very large and very old Victorian house. This second apartment we moved in to was on the ground floor and after the first week of kids looking in our open windows and saying “Yep, they are in there…” or “look, she’s taking a nap.” We buttoned up that apartment tighter than a submarine. Windows shut, shades pulled, curtains drawn.

I’m not a big fan of apartment living but town homes I like a little more and that’s what my sister lives in, 50 glorious steps from the beach. She had just showered and heard a tapping sound. Didn’t think much of it, but then thought, maybe she better check on her 94 year old neighbor. Throwing on some shorts and a t-shirt, she headed next door, tapping lightly on the screen door and then walking in.

There she found her neighbor lying on the floor disconnected from her oxygen mask, hitting the closet door against the wall that abutted my sister’s town home in an effort to  signal for help. She immediately reconnected her oxygen and made all the necessary emergency calls.

Her neighbor had told her…”this is it…” My sister steadfastly said…”not yet…not now…not while I’m here…”

We don’t need to be Mrs. Kravitz by any means, but we do need to be aware and take care of each other. It could be the difference in life and death.

I must have a face that says to people tell me your life story…no…don’t hold back…there is nothing like “TMI”, All Information Is Welcome here…

I was in a shop today, treating myself to something special, because it’s a special day for me and I heard the clerk on the phone with an angry customer. She hung up and told me that the customer was upset with her but that there wasn’t anything she could do about it. I, in turn, told the clerk to let it go, it’s out of her control and that everything was fine…she immediately connected with me from those few words I said to her. As she was ringing up my purchase, she had asked if I read “The Onion”. I’ve heard of it, but I wasn’t an avid reader of their articles. She said that her husband had read an article about “open marriages” and he wanted to try it.

I looked around me and soon found out I was the only one in the small shop. She told me that she was open to it, because “who has traditional marriages anymore???” ….I said…

“Well…I do. 21 years as a matter of fact. Today is my anniversary.” And then she floored me by saying, well…maybe you…but no one else does. Wow. Am I a freak? I know the next X-Men movie is coming up this summer so I’ll be anxious to see if monogamous marriage couples are the next new “mutants”.

I grabbed my bag and told her to have a good evening and bolted out the door. On the drive home, I did think about what she said and about 10 years ago, my first venture into volunteer coaching happened all because of a pair of open marriage swingers. My youngest little diva was in first grade and signed up for softball. At the first practice, I went up to her coach and assistant coach, both dads, and offered my help. They looked at each other and kinda nodded to each other. I didn’t think much of it. The next couple practices, things seemed a little tense and by the 4th practice some of the girls had stopped showing up.

About 3 weeks in, I went up to both of them just before practice and said, “Hey, I can totally help you guys, I’ve played before, maybe having a girl coach might be good for the girls.” I must have been totally naive because what happened next was a shocker. I was thanked for still talking to them, it seemed that most parents and the softball board were running these two coaches out of the league because they were “swingers” and had swung with each others’ wives with one couple falling in love and a soon to be divorce on the way. The funny thing was at that first practice, when I had gone up to them, they had thought I “knew” and wanted in on “the action”.

“uhm…no thanks, I just wanted to volunteer coach the girls…”

“Yeah…we kinda knew that when you brought your glove to the next practice…” whew…good thing I brought my softball glove to a softball practice. Geeshe.

Eventually, that summer, I went on to head coach that team with another mom as my assistant and I coached softball another four years after that. I’m a better parent of a sports player because I’ve been a coach. That chic’s story in the jewelry shop just got me to thinking about how I started my coaching career….

it’s always good to be open minded…you just never know what volunteer opportunities may “swing” your way….

Aside from the advice that I was not “that powerful”, “changing my lightbulb” has been probably the most sound advice I have heard in years.

When I worked in education, I absorbed every problem and struggle of all the children and families I was involved with. When they didn’t  have shoes, I provided shoes, when they struggled with grades, I made every attempt to make sure they “got it” and as I moved up the education chain from elementary students to college students, I became concerned when the students weren’t attending classes. I actually created a “where’s waldo” game within our class  when one of the classmates stopped attending. I contacted our admissions and retention services, I contacted his dorm director, I just wanted to make sure he was ok. I eventually met with a colleague of mine who had taught classes way longer than I had and he told me over coffee >You are not that powerful<

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

>Changing my lightbulb< hit me like another ton of bricks. I need to become energy efficient I was a told. Stop burning so brightly all the time. Stop being “on” all the time. “set yourself to dimmer” once in a while.

Very interesting….

et cetera
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