Library Diva's Guide to Volunteering…

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….


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.

et cetera
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