Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

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 11, 2011}   …it’s all good…

If Nicky the Greek was up for Prom King of his Probation Classes, I’m sure he’d be voted in. He has been my top referral over the past several months. I can’t help to wonder and think about one of his classmates though, and although Kevin has finished his service with me long ago, I can’t help but think of how his life is and how he is.

Kevin’s son is 11 and has Trisomy 10, a pretty bad case of it as a matter of fact.  Kevin and his wife divorced about 6 years ago split custody of their 2 children, with the daughter that doesn’t have any special needs going to his ex and his son being cared for by him. It’s pretty stressful being the constant care giver to his son, losing his job, having to move in with his  parents, and no time for yourself so out he went on a rare night to cut loose and relax at the encouragement of his parents, he had one too many drinks and before you know it, found himself sitting next to Nicky the Greek in an alcohol class.

Kevin’s son had surgery recently to fuse his spine because of a bad curvature so I called Kevin to just check in. I signed off on his paperwork, and he still has a long way to go with his probation, but he had sat in my office and told me his life story and I listened like I cared. Now understand…I’m not wanting all these people I meet to embed into my life, but there has to be some sort of connection and follow-up in the kindness of the human spirit.

He was happy and thankful for the chat. I’m sure I won’t ever talk to him again unless our paths cross by chance, but I wanted to let him know I remembered about the surgery and wanted to make sure all was good on my end with his probation and to “hang in there”.

Sometimes we just need someone to say..”’re doing ok…things will be fine.” It can mean a world of difference.

{May 8, 2011}   Happy Muddah’s Day

A friend of Nicky the Greek came in on Friday. Nicky had told  him that I could “hook him up” on some community service hours. I told his friend, Dino, that I could indeed help him meet his required service hours and to proceed in filling out the application. As Dino jumped through my hoops, I asked him how Nicky was doing.

Dino immediately dropped his pen and grabbed at his smart phone and started swiping.

“Nicky, it’s Dino-yous wouldn’t believe where I’m sittin, yep, she’s right here-”

Dino hands over the phone to me, it smells of Drakkar Noir, cigarettes and tagliatelle, heavy on the garlic.

“Hello? Nicky? Nicky the Greek? How are you? You staying out of trouble?”

“Yeah, my screens are clean, the baby’s due in the summa, and I’m workin’ steady. Life is good, chu know?…take care of Dino, he’s a good boy and he’ll do good work for chu.”

“Ok, well take care of yourself and let me know when you have the baby.”

I could only imagine that his baby would come out looking like him, grown up style, with eyebrows for days, and a continual 5 o’clock shadow, even if it was a girl.  Before I handed the phone back over to Dino, I made sure I told Nicky to pamper his lady friend on Sunday. Even though she hasn’t had the baby yet, she’s still a mom.

“Yeah…right, tanks. I always treat her like a princess, but I’ll do it extra on account of it being Muddah’s Day. All Muddah’s should be treated like princesses on Sunday…”

I woke up this morning. Stretched and smiled….and said to myself…

“Happy Muddah’s Day, Princess!”

Tanks Nicky the Greek.

{February 11, 2011}   you want fries with that?

I’ve had a busy month with regular probation community service volunteers but I do work with some of the odd ones too,  I’ve already placed and have worked with 5 probation volunteers on House Arrest in the past 8 weeks.

House Arrest is a very interesting form of punishment. You have the ankle bracelet and the weekly meetings and sure, you don’t have to be in jail or incarcerated but you really don’t have the freedom that you think you might. You have to be very organized when planning your schedule. You have to detail where you will be at all times in the times you are allowed out, here it’s called  “scheduling out”. One of my gals, when she was fitted with her ankle bracelet in her living room, would somehow always get into violation when she’d go in to her bedroom. The alarms would go off and she’d be reprimanded, finally after a few weeks of extra drama, it was set as part of her perimeter. She really wasn’t doing anything wrong, they just didn’t do an initial walk through of her house.

If you’ve watched Disturbia, that pretty much holds true. You have to stay put or ‘”schedule out”  so the monitor can be adjusted. So, not only do these volunteers have to do their House Arrest, but they also have to do their community service.

I have several who “schedule out” for their work and their community service, I’m not kidding, you have to be really organized and on top of it. I keep a calendar and hold tight to a schedule, but imagine not being able to adjust to it in any way. No swinging by the Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and donut, no stop at the bank or post office, no running in to the grocery for bread and milk. If you don’t have it written down, one week prior, your alarm goes off and you are in violation.

So, the other day, I was feeling a Wendy’s Root beer Float on my way home from doing some errands. I placed the order in the drive through, pulled up to the window, paid and pulled ahead to the second window to pick up my treat. At that window was one of my house arrest volunteers, he had finished his service with me long ago and I just needed to sign off on his paperwork. I knew he had gotten a job somewhere and was expecting a baby and his mom was ill and he had lots going on but I remembered he still needed my signature verifying his hours. But because of my schedule, his house arrest and the strictness of his schedule, meeting up proved futile.

But there he was…handing me my root beer float.

“Hey…how are you? Everything ok?” I said to him, me in my truck and he in the Wendy’s drive through window.

“I’ve prayed for you to come through the window while I was working. When I heard root beer float, I thought it might be you, it sounded like you.” I was a tad relieved that he recognized my voice and not my need for root beer floats…I didn’t think I talked about them THAT much at work…it also struck me odd about the prayer thing, I imagined him on his knees, with his ankle bracelet on at the side of his bed, kneeling…”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray she comes to the window to order fries, or nuggets or something….”

“Hang on…” He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and removed a very folded and worn piece of paper. It was his probationary sign off sheet. “Can you sign this…?”

I slurped my float, laid the paper over my steering wheel and applied my John Hancock. I guess prayers do come true… 🙂

Is it a good thing that Court Ordered Probation and Diversion Volunteers are coming back to me to get their hours for different offenses?

Glass half empty~ They didn’t learn their lesson? Glass half full~ They enjoyed their community service the first time with the library, they want to come back.

I actually have quite a few volunteers who finish their service only to want to stay on and continue to volunteer with us. I’ve always stated to everyone I talk with on both sides, I’m not in the punishment business. I’m not going to make our Court Ordered Community Service gang clean the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. I don’t brand them with a big CS on their chests in red and march them around the library like a chain gang.

We are a public building and as a public building, who knows what secrets we all have as we come in. The one thing we do all have in common is that we enjoy the library and what it has to offer the community. Now, we have limitations…No Sex Crimes, No Child Abuse and No Theft. I’m very firm on the Sex Crimes and Abuse, but theft is discretionary. As with all volunteers, I listen to their stories. I hold an interview with everyone that wants to volunteer for at least 45 minutes. I rely on first impressions. I like respect and kindness, a good sense of humor and honesty.

I also take Felons. It’s amazing what classifies someone as a felon, but if they are coming to me for probation, I have to think what classifies them as a felon might not be as bad as it sounds. I had a young man in his 30’s who was having dinner with his grandmother. She poured him a glass of wine, he took a sip, spilled some on his shirt, and then the phone rang. Her prescription was ready at the drug store up the street. He said he’d go get it for her, pulled in to the pharmacy drive through, the pharmacist knew him and as usual practice said, be careful…he pulled out of the pharmacy, didn’t use a turn signal and was pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer smelled the alcohol, searched his car and found a prescription not belonging to him. Felony possession among other things.

I guess you can make up that story, but it’s something that can easily happen to me as if I was getting something for my dad. I gave him a chance and he did a great job and is still with us as his time permits.

When I’d sign off on the final probation paperwork, I used to say “I hope I don’t see you anymore…”, now I just tell them to be careful out there and be good. I never know if they are going to come back!

The past few months I have been inundated with what volunteers want from me. Since I work quite a bit with Community Service, Probation, Work Fare and Job Training, I get many many phone calls from community members that start off with “I need…” or “I have to…” . This is where you walk the fine line of volunteer management.

Do you accept volunteers to assist your organization to strengthen the community or do you accept volunteers to assist their personal goals and needs which in turn may help strengthen the community? True altruism is not dead, but you always wonder where lies the “What’s in it for me?” statement.

To help organize placement, one of my first questions is “Why?” I can almost always guarantee the good old, to-give-back answer, but with a little more digging, there’s always a probation or diversion hidden requirement  in there somewhere.

Today, as I got ready for work, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and I stood in my closet looking at my very large shoe and boot collection. What did I feel like today? It’s been probably one of the easiest answers of the week. My  Spice Girl Boots, hands down.

In those boots it’s very easy to ask “Tell Me What You Want…What You Really Really Want…”

et cetera
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