Summer keeps getting shorter. The time to relax with the kids, unwind and disconnect is over before you need to heat the pool. For most of us, back to school means the loss of precious family time. However, it may also mean returning to a comforting routine and increased freedom. For some of us, it means getting those TB shots and gearing up for volunteer duties.
Let’s get real, people. Why does it seem as if the same five people do all the volunteering in school? The same faces show up year after year to bake cookies for the school fundraiser, drive kids to a class field trip and get their hands dirty for the garden greening project. You can also bet these are the same folk who agree to be room parents and fill-in aides. Do they just have a different code system than the rest of us? In Corporate America, there are fiduciary duties by officers to the shareholders of the corporation. Aren’t we all officers in the corporation that is our family and isn’t one aspect of our corporation’s business the education of our children? Shouldn’t we be taking on our fiduciary duties?
With this in mind, I began my volunteering “career” a few years ago, in my eldest daughter’s elementary school. I did not so much as volunteer as be tasked with a duty by an overworked mom, informing me that it was a job “you’d be perfect at.” She told me I’d be working with another mom and we’d get along famously because “you both are Jewish!” Alarm bells should have gone off.
It began with promise. I met with my new partner for coffee to formulate our plan of attack. When she had to leave for a European vacation, I took over the reins. All was smooth sailing until she returned from her trip. Suddenly, she became captain of our little skiff and never seemed satisfied with her skipper’s input or effort. My captain came from a corporate background; her skipper from an artistic one. While clearly this Alpha Mom is a good person with amazing organizational skills, she and I approached the job (and our lives) in a diametrically opposed manner. I was miserable. My first volunteering effort was a bust.
The following year, I was asked to volunteer. This time I chose a field of interest. I decided to work with a new friend who was low key, patient and blessed with a rollicking sense of humor. We were in charge of 5th grade graduation, a big job, but not demanding until the latter part of the year. From the middle of the year, we slowly and methodically read our 5th grade graduation “manifesto” and put our team in place, much like General Ulysses S. Grant before the capture of Richmond. There were no big surprises when the hectic last few weeks were upon us. Even the absence of a sound system with less than 24 hours to go couldn’t faze us. Order the plants for the stage? No problem, we already had our garden contact. Bargain with the stage rental providers? No worries, we had bids to compare. Provide the food for the event? Easy, the 4th grade moms (a tradition) had long been prepped with a menu of past graduations. Together, we pulled off one of the best graduations in years, not to mention a whimsical, first-of-its-kind 5th grade picnic, which was such a resounding success, 4th grade moms immediately contacted us wanting to know the specifics so they could book the same space for the following year.
My first two big volunteer experiences couldn’t have been more different. One experience would have gotten me fired on The Apprentice; the other would have made Donald Trump beam with pride. My advice: do the job that resonates with you and work with a partner with whom you connect. I cannot stress the latter enough. It’s hard enough giving up your free time, so make volunteering a joy, not a burden.
This reminds me of one reason I love Fresh Schools. It makes the process of volunteering that much easier by allowing volunteers to sign up and/or cancel quickly and efficiently. Gone is the time consuming search for lost contact information. All the contacts and information are on the site, one click away.
No fuss. No excuse. See you at school!