Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Value of Volunteers

I vividly remember rolling my eyes when the assistant principal announced that I would be getting a classroom volunteer. "Oh, great," I thought, "more work for me."

The volunteer in question turned out to be great. She was engaging, funny, proactive and the students loved her. I was sad when the moved on.

But my initial reaction stuck with me for a long time. Whenever the subject of parent volunteers came up, I was skeptical. What does this mean for me? Will this be worth it? What are their motives? Don't they have jobs? Super snooty, right?

Recently, I have become more enlightened on the matter, as I have been doing some volunteering myself. I know that the teachers probably roll their eyes when they see me coming, but I really don't care. I volunteer because I am grateful for the opportunity my kid has to do cool things. If I can help behind the scenes with the play by printing programs, hanging up posters, organizing other volunteers or being a cheerleader, I will. For me, being part of the drama troupe parent group feels great.

I am embarrassed that it took my own volunteer experience for me to realize the value of volunteers. For moms, dads, grandparents and community members volunteering is a way of saying "thank you for supporting my kid." It's a way to give back a little something and to be part of something bigger. Volunteers get a lot out of volunteering.

But so do schools. Schools get extra hands on deck, enthusiastic people to do boring work, cheap labor and sometimes gifts in kind. But more importantly, schools benefit because the community is broader. Volunteers add value, richness and diversity to school communities.

I know that volunteering is complex endeavor in the modern age. Parents can't just show up anymore. We need documentation and clearances. In spite of these barriers, schools must provide volunteer opportunities often. The benefits are overwhelming. Consider a few scenarios.

My kid is called into the office for a minor problem. I volunteer at school and know the principal and teachers. Because of this, I'm less likely to freak out and blame someone else and so our meeting goes smoothly. I still want justice and/or consequences for my kid, but I am more likely to approach the situation in a calm and productive way. I'm part of a community and I want to keep it that way, without alienating anyone.

My kid's friend had a death in family. The school wanted to help by providing meals. Because I volunteer, I feel part of this community, even though I don't know the family. The impact that the school can have on the response to this tragedy is huge because so many parents felt like valued members of the community through acts of volunteerism. Weeks after the death, the family is still receiving meals.

The examples are endless and the message is clear. Volunteers matter and schools must value their contributions. The happiest people are those who are giving more - and don't we want our schools filled with happy people?


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