I often get random requests from people wanting to volunteer with our education programs. Usually the requests are very specific. They want to come on a certain day (usually a weekend or an evening after we're closed) and during a certain time frame. Oftentimes, they want to bring a large group of people.
I truly appreciate a person's willingness to give of their time, but I struggle to try to reconcile a group or individual's willingness to give of their time (working around their work schedules) with our actual need. There has got to be some way to engage people in volunteering without making our staff work 50 hours a week to accommodate them. There has also got to be a way to engage volunteers in a way that is beneficial to the program instead of just busy-work that is created because non-profits feel the need to cater to volunteers.
The consistent and genuinely engaged volunteer is very rare and hard to come by but they are possible. We have a couple of them.
Today, I want to spotlight Susie Marshall as one of those people.
Susie works with the Gleaning Network of Texas. She helped our After-School Academy get their garden started this summer. Her original commitment was to teach a garden/environment class one Friday a month last school year. But she took it upon herself to visit us more than that. Susie would stop by every so--in between meetings or if she was down the street for some reason--often just to say hi or to check out something for the class she was going to be teaching. Because she was so consistent, we convinced her back in the summer to help the kids to start a garden.
Due to different obstacles here and there, we couldn't start the garden when we wanted to. Many people would have stopped coming. But that didn't stop Susie. She kept coming. She hung out. She got to know the kids better. She assisted some teachers and sat in on some classes. She became a part of our program, despite there being "nothing" for her to do.
By the time we got approval for the garden, Susie was ready...because she never went away. Since we were behind in the process, she recruited different people to help. She ran into more obstacles (the ground was too hard). She did more research. She decided on a "lasagna garden." Since the process was too big for small kids, she recruited a group of teenagers to work with the kids.
We could have set aside our project and waited for a volunteer group to come along, but we needed to get the garden going so that vegetables could grow and so that the kids could work in it. And we didn't want it done *by* somebody, we wanted it done *with* the kids. Susie knew all of that and was quick to accommodate--even gathering and purchasing the supplies needed.
Because we had a long time relationship/partnership with Susie, she didn't need a lot of nurturing. We didn't have to provide a staff member to supervise her and her group on a Saturday because she was very familiar with us, the garden, the kids, and our expectations. Susie's volunteering efforts didn't (and don't) take time away from what we spend with the kids, they enhance them.
The garden now has green peppers, red tomatoes, and ripe black-eyed peas and jalepenos. Susie is still researching new practices and has become a part of our summer planning committee. Our After-School Academy is doing some great things with the help of volunteers like Susie.
If you are someone who wants to be involved, offer your time. Stop in on your lunch break and be willing to enter data or shelve books. Get to know the program's day-to-day activities and needs when kids and big events *aren't* happening. We have to have staff to run our programs like everyone else. Our kids deserve that. But in preparing for our programs, we don't always have time to get the behind-the-scenes things done. Help us with those behind the scenes things...or just show up regularly so that we know we can call on you when we need something. And we need those kinds of volunteers beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.