“Don’t volunteer for anything!” was the advice I was given as a young man about to join the military. Today, according to the Urban Dictionary, the Air Force [my branch] only teaches you two things: “Cheese tastes pretty much the same coming up as going down, so it’s OK to eat before a bumpy flight“, and “Never volunteer for anything“. That cheese thing is new to me – sounds pretty gross! But, it was certainly understood by everyone that volunteering could get you some pretty undesirable assignments!
I put the notion of not volunteering out of my head a long time ago. Over the course of my working career, and in my personal life, I’ve had some very interesting and fulfilling things come my way just by stepping forward. It has been particularly true during this, the retirement phase of my life.
Back in the early 90’s, I supported Joanna’s decision to give up her paying job to spend more time doing the things she enjoyed – she thought maybe that would include volunteer work; but she never quite acted on that desire. I’ve been fairly active all my life. So, as I was coasting into retirement by slowly decreasing my work-for-pay hours, I felt I had to do something to stay in that active mode. So, I call this part of my life the Bob-Volunteers-For-Joanna-Phase. Altruism is not the driving force behind my volunteering – although helping others is the side-product of my desire and need to stay active and engaged.
Over the past five years, I’ve tried several diverse opportunities. I went into each with the thought of giving it my best and if it didn’t ultimately appeal to me, I’d move on to something else. My goal is to spend approximately 8-12 hours a week, leaving me ample time to pursue other interests. Below are some of my volunteering adventures.
Since I had many years’ history with the Moffitt Cancer Center, that seemed to be the logical place to start. For four hours one day a week, I worked very closely with the patients in the Infusion Center, where chemotherapy treatments are given. We distributed warm blankets, food/drink, etc.; generally making sure they were as comfortable as they could be under the circumstances. A big part of the job was sitting and conversing with those who just needed someone with whom to pass the time. After 4+ years, I’ve recently transferred to another department in the Center. It wasn’t that I disliked what I doing – it was just time for a change! You can find volunteer opportunities at the American Cancer Society website, too.
Feeding America‘s mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. I volunteered mainly in their Tampa distribution center. They received food staples, produce, perishables and sundries from various supermarkets, drugstores and other sources. We sorted; grouped and shelved the products in a retail-like setting. Charity groups then “shopped” the FA store for their individual groups. I also attended one event where food was provided directly to needy individuals in the community. A large number of those with whom I worked were there because of a court-required community service sentence. It was most interesting working closely with these folks! I enjoyed my 12-month stint at Feeding America, but decided to leave this physically demanding job to the younger folks!
In 2012, Tampa was the site of the Republican National Convention. About a year before the summer event, the Tampa Bay Host Committee put out a call for volunteers. I signed up to work in the weeks before the convention, but not during the week of the event. Tampa can be very hot/humid mid-August and I didn’t want to be stuck outside guiding conventioneers around the city! I was called in a half dozen times during that period for training; to make phone calls to other volunteers reminding them of their schedules; to help set up the uniform distribution site; to register other volunteers, etc. Although my involvement was short-lived, it was fun to be part of a national event. We were cautioned to remain apolitical and that we were working for the Host Committee, not the Republican Party. I shared my participation with an acquaintance. She said, “I’m happy to know you are a Republican. There’s so few of us around here!” I didn’t want to spoil her excitement by telling her we were not working for the party and that I’m a registered Independent!
A Guardian ad Litem is a person appointed by the court to represent “the best interests of the child” in court proceedings. These children have been removed from the home because of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. I found my stint as a volunteer GAL to be one of the most rewarding, yet most emotionally draining things I’ve done in the past few years! After several weeks of intensive training, I was given a case of two young brothers placed in foster care. It was my job to learn everything I could about the boys, their family and everyone who had contact with them – parents, foster parents, teachers, healthcare providers, daycare workers, etc. I was to oversee their well-being while they were in the care of the court. It meant frequently visiting them in the foster home, representing them in their parents’ court hearings and to bring to the court’s attention any unmet needs of the children. After 18 months the boys were finally reunited with their father and the case was closed. Although complimented by my supervisor on my performance, I concluded I could not continue on. I was frustrated with the slowness of the system and the constant turnover in the state’s case worker staff. Moreover, the emotional attachment to the boys (I’d become their pseudo-grandfather!) was a bit too much for me to handle. I so admire those who continue to give their time as Guardians for years on end. The system needs more people like them!
One morning a week I volunteered in the Media Center/Library of my grandson’s elementary school! To be around those eager, inquisitive young people was absolutely priceless! It was fun working the checkout desk where I’d ask about the books they were checking out: “Do you have a dog at home?”; “Are you a fan of the Atlanta Falcons?”; “Who is your favorite ball player, author, princess?”; “How many books in this series have you read?”; “What are you going to do this weekend?”, etc. These questions would cause some of the kids to launch into long explanations, at times veering off on totally unrelated topics! A couple times a year, the school sponsors a Scholastics Book Fair. Some of the younger students raided their piggy banks bringing the coins in ziplock bags, hoping they’d have enough to buy everything they saw! It was a challenge to help them count the coin and then steer them in the direction of something they could afford. Without a doubt, the three years I spent in the Media Center/Library was the most enjoyable volunteering I’ve ever done!
I’m continually looking for new opportunities to replace those I’ve left – recently I took a spot in the emergency department of a local hospital. Whenever I’m thanked for volunteering, I always reply that I truly get so much more out of it than I put into it.
If you have time on your hands and are so inclined, volunteering may be way for you to stay active!