Sunday, May 31, 2009

We’re All In This Together: Mandatory Volunteering

As I was sitting at a picnic for one of my son’s activities, a leader stood up and proceeded to describe all the volunteer duties for parents. “O boy,” I thought, “This is entirely my fault.”

After leading a youth organization for a few years, I decided to tell parents to commit to a volunteer job on an index card and hand it to me along with their membership payment. One night in a parking lot as we were leaving a meeting, this leader talked about how certain parents were overburdened with a few jobs each, while other parents did nothing. I told her about my new system for my group and she was intrigued.

If you have ever volunteered for your school’s PTA, a scout organization, youth group, or sports team, you know how volunteering usually goes. The leaders do all the activity coordination themselves, a few other parents step forward on their own, or the leaders beg the same few volunteers to help. Eventually people don’t want to step forward as leaders because the job is overbearing.

The burden must be evenly spread across all members so everyone feels like they are doing their fair share. When I implemented the system, I worried about parents’ reactions to being forced to do an activity. What I found is that parents went overboard in their responsibility. Since they knew it was their “one thing” for the whole year, they threw themselves into the job. We almost had to hold them back. My leaders knew they could concentrate on their real responsibilities without additional time requirements. The quality of all our activities improved.

After the presentation at the picnic, the leader came to me and confirmed my earlier thought. Her presentation was due to my suggestions. All I could do was laugh. She talked with the leaders and came up with the plan to encourage more parent involvement.

Taking my idea a step further, she had taken a collage of photographs of the kids, cut it into puzzle pieces, and put a volunteer job on each piece. She encouraged the parents to take one puzzle piece and create the full picture together. When some did, she was delighted.

Perhaps mandatory volunteering will help your organization. Don’t be timid when you ask.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Learning to Love Letting Go


Scaffolding rose up toward the ceiling where the altar usually stands at the front of the church. Even though this was a special day for my son to celebrate Communion, we were not going to be kneeling at our familiar altar. Nothing was usual.

When I first heard the stained glass window was to be re-installed and the church would be in disarray, all I could think was “bad planning”. In my life, both personally and professionally, I plan everything. Schedules, timetables, and details are paramount.

But I think God had a strong message for me today.

The makeshift altar and distribution held the same promise. This Christian family meal provided the same joy of celebration with the millions of Christians who have lived or will live around the world. Life can’t be typical with so many people in the chaotic throws of life. You can’t plan everything with thoughts and power crashing in all directions.

When I became pregnant with my first son, a colleague told me having a child would be good for me because I would have to learn to let go. Everything would not go exactly as I expected. For the past dozen years, her words were a daily invitation to put each instance in perspective. I have changed.

Today’s free-wheeling service took my thoughts a step further and made me appreciate the unexpected, embrace the uncontrollable unknown. After all, earthly objects are immaterial.

A couple of weeks ago, our seminarian preached about his first time in our church. Our minister told him how he loved the stained glass window of the Ascension. As Jesus rises, the disciples are all standing around with expressions on their faces which seem to ask “Where are you going and what are we supposed to do?”

I ask myself the same thing everyday.

Today I realized I'm supposed to take Communion even when there’s no altar and be glad while I do it. After I am fed, I'm responsible for feeding, or looking after, others.
In life we often have to succeed with a failed plan. We will, by letting go of our perceived failure and finding joy in the situation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Should I Abandon Real Life for My Laptop?


As I began to start a new community website, I caught myself thinking I’d need to jettison real life commitments in order to maintain it. Then it hit me, I was actually thinking about quitting my volunteer work with other people to sit at my laptop.

In the last week I’d volunteered at our elementary school festival and field day then participated in a cub scout service project. Between my family, work, church and a city commission, my days are booked. Something would have to give.

Should we really reduce our real life community time in order to have one online?

When I confided my dilemma to a friend, he told me about his six years maintaining a national website for train enthusiasts. After a while, the site took up so much time that he realized he wasn’t fixing trains anymore. All he wanted was to grab tools and scrap paint to repair old engines in the museum, but he’d spend his weekends on the website. He stopped.

For people who don’t have volunteer or community activities, online groups and interactions provide a sense of community. Anyone can spend time blogging and commenting to provide a place for like-minded people to participate from the comfort of their own computer screen.

But what if your time is filled volunteering in the flesh? Even if you streamline, you still need to have the time to do a good job and respond to others online. It’s unavoidable.

Now I’m seriously considering the benefits from all of my activities by asking myself four simple questions.

Does the organization have a positive influence on a priority in my life, such as my children?

What do I get out of the experience personally?

Am I truly helping a broader good or cause?

Will the online interaction improve an aspect of my real life community or career?

When I find the answers, I still have to prioritize whether an online effort with the same benefits outweighs a real life effort with people physically in the same place at the same time. It’s amusing to even consider it.

More and more, time spent online truly competes with real life interactions. How many times have you been dragged away from your computer or internet cell phone connection by someone standing in front of you?

A fellow mom sent me a piece of Flair on Facebook, “Not now sweety, mommy’s on Facebook.” I read it out loud with my 7-year old in the room and he said, “That’s alright mommy.” I spun around in shock and explained that I was only reading something. Was I ignoring him for the computer? At that moment I hadn’t thought I was. Though I often say, “Just let me post this blog real quick and we’ll do something together.”

I can’t imagine quitting as a volunteer to spend my time on my laptop no matter what the reason.

What we all need are online clones to handle our internet duties, blogging, programming and design. Our look-alike avatars could handle everything for us. Who’s working on THAT kind of robot?