Some volunteer work is really awesome… whether because it is actually a fun experience or because it is very fulfilling/meaningful work. Some volunteer work sucks. This happens when it is neither fun nor fulfilling. I will now provide some examples of each.
Planting trees along the Mississippi River in April in 40 degree rain/snow weather: Awesome. The work was grueling and the weather was painful. But, it was with a good group of people and we were all able to laugh at our situation. Plus, maybe some of those trees took root and will end up being huge and living longer than me.
Overnight shift at a homeless shelter: Awesome. I was mainly there in case anything happened, but I don’t know what I would have done if something actually had. I mostly made coffee, chatted with interesting people, and sat at a desk shushing people before going to lie down for my 4 hour sleep shift. I did it a lot during college and it was a nice way to get homework done without friends getting in the way. I also felt like I was actually contributing though… these people had no place to go and I was kind of watching over them keeping them safe at night.
Manning a booth at the Living Green Expo: Suck. No one stopped by and no one wanted to hear what we had to say. I did get a back massage out of the deal though, and I sat there eating M&Ms with Joe the whole time. Let’s just call it a wash.
Bagging potatoes for 3 hours before going on a tour that ends in a sex-slave room: Suck. I’m a corporate cube worker. I can’t be brought to a warehouse, stuck in front of a pallet of potatoes, and be expected to happily stuff 10lb bags for 3 hours. I get bored. This could be my ADHD, this could be that bagging potatoes isn’t my thing. Either way, the entire time I was thinking “I would be working so much harder if they varied up my tasks a bit…” which in turn slowed me down further. The day ended with an “international tour” which took us through a really neat mock-up of different homes across the world. However, the last room was just a bed under a red light with a small blanket on the wire frame and handcuffs. Bam – sex trafficking. How does me packing potatoes help? It doesn’t, not at all, which left me feeling even more deflated.
Handing out tons (literally) of food to elementary school children who really need it: Awesome. I’ve done this a few times at my old elementary school. The first time I got to give out girl scout cookies which made me the favorite of every child there. It also hit really close to home because only a while back it was me in that school having my own not-perfect-home-situation and I made it out, so, I want to help others in any way I can so they can make it through too. I’m trying to get the Lead Volunteer position with this organization so I can make a bigger contribution, but, I feel like I’m stalking them to no avail.
Re-shelving books at a library: Awesome. You get to have quiet time playing with books. I was able to both build my “to-read” list and make fun of some of the crazy books people borrowed. It was also really helpful to learn my way around the library… I still find myself grabbing random stalks of books and re-shelving them sometimes. Hey, that’s a good idea. Instead of legitimately volunteering at a library, I could just creep around shelving books on a regular basis. Then I wouldn’t have to fill out the application or let them know when I’m going to be in… commitment is overrated.
The moral of the story? If you think volunteering sucks, try something else. You just aren’t doing it right.