Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

{June 7, 2011}   Smells like Teen Spirit!

I stopped in our TeenZone to give a pep talk on volunteering and go over the policies and procedures to our Teen Advisory Board and when I walked in the room I didn’t expect almost 20 kids in there!

I was dually impressed that all stereotypes were represented! I felt like I was in the library with a meeting of the Breakfast Club.

Its great to see such involvement and enthusiasm. It’s tough now with people with Masters degrees getting jobs that usually are reserved for teens. I know of some Ph.D’s scooping ice scream and waiting tables. Teens want to be involved and busy. What’s the old saying, Boredom breeds Destruction?

Not only will these teens be planning our teen activities, but they’ll be participating in our movie nights, wii game nights, helping with projects and shelving materials. It’s an exciting time for us and for them!

Very cool…


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….

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 1, 2011}   A Princess Party…

A couple of the volunteers from the Friends of the Library Bookshop got together to watch the Royal Wedding. Our gal from Liverpool who used to listen to the Beetles at a pub around the corner on her lunch break from her work, invited a few gal pals over to watch the nuptials at 5:30 am. She had purchased tiaras for all who attended. Every girl is a princess.

I was invited but decided that I would watch the recap. I got up back in the day for Diana and since then I realized that new technologies have been invented and I wouldn’t miss a thing via dvr, tweet, internet and cable television choices and I could still get my own beauty rest…since I am a princess in my own mind.

I like to see volunteers do things outside of work, you know that relationships are being built and cultivated and nurtured. People are making friends. I like that.

I have made some good friends as well in my own volunteer endeavors. I sit on a board of directors for a non profit group and am the vice president. The president, recording secretary and treasurer are all super cool, and refreshingly we all know what we are doing and seem like we are going to do it very well! It’s like the perfect storm of executive members!

We’re all professionals but I know we can all princess up when needed. I’m going to stash some tiara’s just for us and break them out during one of our meetings. We don’t need a royal wedding to be a princess. Princesses do charity work and volunteer too.

I can only imagine how the princess party went on Friday. Lots of tea and scones I’m sure. I’m happy for Kate and William and happy that they brought together a small party in the midwest to celebrate friendship and good wishes.

{March 5, 2011}   you’re perfect…

I have a few things to say to all the teens who have come in to see me in the past couple weeks….

If you are coming to me for probation. You made a mistake…be patient. Think before you act! Straighten out and fly right and get out of the system.

If you are coming to me for school and college applications. Balance out your life…it’s not all about spelling bees and top schools sometimes.

If you are coming to me because you need a job…it’s a tough world out there. Look in to grants, aid and scholarships for college. Cut out spending…eat mom’s cooking and play some board games at home for crying out loud.

If you feel you’re different. You are! and that’s a good thing. So the “preps” took over your lunch table today…you are labeling just like everyone else. Embrace differences. It’s ok to have different likes and dislikes. It makes the world more interesting.

…and for my little friend that confided in me….it’s not your fault. No means No.

It’s tough being a teen in today’s world, please stop being so hard on yourselves…

I left work and had to run to the post office before I started some more errands, it is the holiday season and it wouldn’t be tradition for some if the rushing and stress wasn’t part of it. The rushing is part of what I do almost everyday, the stress of the holidays is something I try to keep to a minimum. I knew what I was mailing wasn’t going to get to their destinations until after Christmas, I’m even finishing up my seasonal cards today, focus on “seasonal”.

I’m not sure what the connection is lately to the Post Office and the Humane Society with me. If you have read one of my earlier posts, that’s how I found my Newfoundland Mo.  I’m the only one in the post office,  they all know me by name because I’m in there so often and we all hear a car alarm going off.  Outside is an elderly lady in her car, I go out to see if everything’s ok, but before I get there the alarm stops. I go back to the counter, then the alarm is louder, I go out to investigate again, she’s moved her car closer to the door. My over imaginative mind is thinking that maybe she’s having a stroke or needs help. She ends up driving away…bizaare enough, but before I can go back in to the post office I’m stopped by a frantic woman yelling if I had seen a dog. She’s in a van and has been circling the area. I yell out to her, what kind? who are you? Just in case I find it, I can return it to her.

“It’s an Alaskan Malamute, I’m a volunteer at the Humane Society and it broke free while I was walking it!” I immediately felt bad for her. She took off and  after I finished up at the post office I took a few extra side roads to see if I could find it. How horrible to be volunteering and do a good deed only to have the dreaded happen. So I’m going to let my over imagination step in on this one and find a happy ending for her…

Dave and his Malamute went off one day on a mushing adventure in the far reaches of Alaska. Tok was not only an excellent mush dog, but also the loyal family pet. On this particular day though, a bear came upon Dave and Tok as they were mushing through the woods, Tok immediately went to protect Dave and chased the bear far far away. Dave waited for Tok’s return but after several bitter cold hours, Dave realized that maybe Tok was a goner. The family was heartbroken. In this economy, of course, Dave was forced to move his family to the midwest for a job transfer. Having their first Christmas in a strange place in middle America, the family was struggling to adjust, but happy that there was a least snow where they moved. As for the Tok, he was picked up by Malamute rescue, sent from Humane Society to Humane Society and Rescue to Rescue where he too ended up in middle America and in that night air, as the volunteer was walking him, a scent caught his attention, was it Dave’s aftershave? Tok broke free, and on that very night, he ran up the porch steps and scratched and yipped until he was met with warm welcomes and hugs.

Tok was home for Christmas….

{November 24, 2010}   Giving Thanks…

I saw one of our most loyal and dependable volunteers today, it was about  a month ago that Marie’s husband passed away. He was 92 years old. She may be in her 90’s as well.

On the day before Thanksgiving,  I always think of the people who have lost someone, who are struggling or who are just lost and wonder how they will spend their day. There always seems to be the people who are scrambling to have that perfect Martha Stewart dinner, others decide to have their families work at a soup kitchen, while others just do what they always have done  not fussing or striving for anything out of the ordinary.

I asked Marie how she plans to spend tomorrow and she said like she always has, at the Country Buffet. Her husband didn’t like all that traditional fuss and where can you take a group of people who can get what they want but the local buffet restaurant.

For me it’s all about family and spending time with them. I remember my job when I was little was to spread the cream cheese on the celery and dash the paprika on it. I think it was just my job to stay out-of-the-way but I was a master at it. If you are cooking at home, Martha Stewart or not, make sure you have lots of volunteers engaged in the day with lots of simple tasks. The more you get people involved, the more they will make a memory of it.

However you choose to spend your holiday, remember there is always something to be thankful for even if it’s just a memory.

{December 15, 2009}   Bookmobile and Mobile Outreach

I was taking inventory the other day on where my volunteers are and which ones have taken a leave of absence over the winter.  I was missing one of my favorite elderly geneology volunteers. He has had some health problems and I knew his wife wasn’t well either.

He’s always been dependable, pleasant and constant, and I was just missing him so I sent him an old school card, hand written, snail mail with a stamp. I actually told him we  missed him and I hoped he and his wife were well. I’m not expecting anything back from him. I just wanted to let him know that we were here for him.

I went one step farther and told our Mobile Outreach Coordinator to maybe give him a call and see if he wanted library service over the winter months. He said he would.

Our volunteer has done so much for us over the years, we really needed his help and he did a great job. I’m not giving up on him…I think he needs us now, so if he can’t come to us, we’ll go to him.

{November 30, 2009}   Why do I do what I do?

et cetera
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