Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Does Volunteering Mean to YOU?

Hey folks, today I'll be talking a little bit about the art and culture of volunteering.  I believe the first time I ever volunteered was when I was 16 and was asked to volunteer a few hours a day during the summer to enlighten 13 year olds in whatever topic I choose. I soon discovered that 13 year old kids were definitely up for a bigger challenge than I was prepared for, but I was willing to volunteer my time to bring them enlightened topics.  So I thought... and thought.  I was struggling every day until I remembered a film about discrimination, Nazis, terror and acceptance.  Bingo!  Showed the film and had lively discussions about what we had seen, drew art depicting some of the scenes and what we thought about life in general.  What a great feeling.

Anyway, later in life, I walked into Live Oak Theatre to see an old friend of mine’s show “Seekers of the Fleece” performed by Bobby Bridger.  The moment I walked into the theatre, I knew I was home.  I talked with the House Manager about volunteer opportunities. Fate was to offer me the life long chance to do props for Live Oak Theatre, Capitol City Playhouse, Zilker Hillside Summer Musical, & Zach Scott Theatre. Now, I just usher or do whatever I can to promote theatre in Austin.

What I have I learned by being a volunteer?  Volunteering should come from the desire to support the organization and it’s mission.  There are many reasons to volunteer:  to meet people, see shows for free, enjoy parties, attend ballets and operas.  These are all great perks, but my approach is to always support the mission of the organization that I volunteer.  Volunteering should mean gladly participating in the more undesirable tasks as well as the rewarding pleasurable ones.

Having been on both sides of the volunteering experience, as a volunteer and a volunteer coordinator, I know these valuable tools can make a wonderful volunteer experience:

1. Be Flexible!
I can recall a crazy instance when the caterers didn’t show up for an opening night show reception. Our volunteer coordinator had us setting up tables with table cloths, champagne glasses, and running over to a large grocery store to get cheeses, crackers, desserts, meats etc. and scurrying back and setting up everything with flowers, and cups and plates, napkins.  We were set up by the end of the show.  Everyone knew what had to happen and we did what it took.  Adapting and showing a happy face to all the patrons never letting on that all this was going on in the background.  We were so proud.

2. Energy
Sometimes you can be tired from work or other circumstances before you arrive for your volunteering assignment.  Remember that anyone coming to where you are volunteering has had outside events happening to them as well, and you may be the first person they see.  The goal of volunteering is to bring something to the experience.

3. Imagination and Creativity
Volunteering doesn’t need to be a solemn or straining thing.  When individuals use their talents, passions, and humor they bring life into the tasks at hand.  Allow yourself to dream; bring your
creativity into whatever you do because it leaves your own personal and sincere mark.

4. Integrity
Keeping your commitments, showing up when you say you will.  You represent the organization
you are volunteering with.  You are entrusted with their image, and the work they do as well as what you do with them.  This is keeping your word and doing what you say you will do.

5. Sacrifice/Selflessness
Volunteering again is giving of your time freely, bringing your time and energy to a cause, an organization because you want to.  I know that sometimes I have felt tired and worn thin because of maybe too many demands at times.  Examine your motives, the rewards or feelings you get at the end of the experience.  Sometimes it does mean sacrificing a bit especially when you are overwhelmed or under challenged.

I have given some tips on good volunteering, BUT on the flip side as a volunteer coordinator, I know that treating the volunteers well is so very important because it is their time, they are here to learn about your organization and what you all do.  Always try to engage them, and plan out their experience so they will want to return and find fulfillment in the mission.  After all, they came to you wanting to donate time as well as their talents to your organization.  Treat them well!

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