I have come to the conclusion that I have too much time to concentrate on myself and my life and my stuff and my, my, my, me, me, me. My son barely needs me, I don’t have a demanding job, and I have a slightly less than bustling (ha) social life. I know the spiritual solution is to think outside myself and concentrate on what I can or could do for others. I have never really wanted to volunteer for my own gratification; it’s really just a feeling of wanting to be a participant and contributor in the world. To serve a purpose, to help, but, most importantly, just to be kind, which I know is the key to a happier world and a happier God. And, I admit, that does make a happier me.
However, this has resulted in quite the conundrum because my experiences with trying to contribute, in just the most recent years, have not been so good. Funny, maybe, looking back, but not good.
I’m a Big Sister here in Indianapolis. At the initial getting-to-know-you meeting with my first “Little”, she told me that her older sister’s “Big” bought her all kinds of stuff and asked me to take her to Wal-Mart so she could pick some things out for me to buy for her. And I did! I stuck with it for two more weeks, until her mother asked me to buy four tickets to a Lil Bow Wow concert for my “Little”, two of her cousins, and myself. When I questioned the expense, she said, and I quote, “Well, that’s what Big Sisters are for, isn’t it?”
My second “Little” was a pretty good experience until I started being asked to drive her to school each morning and to baby-sit while her Aunt went on vacations and to listen to and get involved in family dramas. The babysitting was the last straw. This 15-year-old actually wrote on my furniture and embarrassed me in public on several occasions. She seemed to love to run through grocery stores and Targets like a 5-year-old. Her Aunt called one night and abruptly interrupted the poor kid’s animated telling of something good that had happened at school. This had obviously hurt her feelings and she said only a few words the rest of their conversation. So, then, it was my turn. No hello, no how are things, no small talk, just an accusatory “She sounds homesick. Why would she be homesick?" I wanted to say, “Because you interrupted her story and didn’t listen to her? Because she’s not at home? Because you’re on a vacation?” But I didn’t.
I signed up to be a holiday volunteer with the Salvation Army here in Indianapolis. One of the activities my first holiday year was to deliver packages to shut-ins. I thought this would be a great activity for my son and myself. And how nice to send these people something nice for the holidays. We looked in one of the bags and found a pamphlet about the Salvation Army, a banana, an apple, and a stuffed animal. What the he…
For three years with the Salvation Army, I worked the holiday toy store application process. We took information from folks to qualify them for entrance to the store. The major qualification was proof of income. They had to have jobs (we directed them to other agencies that could be more beneficial if they had no jobs). Some didn’t, some lied, some probably made more money than I did. But I’d accept everybody I could. My last day doing this was the day another volunteer (who happens to be the lead elf in the city - she’s involved in 99.9% of the Salvation Army activities in town) yelled at me.
A woman came in with five children, three of which were babies. She barely spoke English and she had no proof of income or job. Another adult with her tried to explain that her husband worked for himself. I would’ve said okay and completed her application but Ol’ Lead Elf heard her and insisted that she have some sort of proof. I told her to have her husband sign something explaining the situation and come back. They lived just down the road and it was 11:50AM. Ol’ Lead Elf told her, “We close at 12. If you’re not back, we can’t help you.” I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you. Just try to come back as soon as you can”, to which Ol’ Lead Elf screamed at me in reply, “NO!! THE RULES ARE THAT WE CLOSE AT 12PM!!!” She started packing up our supplies and actually yanked a pencil from my dumbstricken hand.
To make a long story short, I got permission from the Captain to stay, I told the lady to go on and that I would wait, and I gave the Ol’ Lead Elf my best and most evil “you had better back off” look. Happy Friggen Holidays!! Those “Christian” volunteers are work!!
I did this again the next year with the stipulation that I be nowhere near her, but heard nothing but horror stories about people stealing from the toy store, the coat store, the kettles, etc. This year, I didn’t participate at all. I did send them some money, though, because I still do believe in the organization.
In 2005, I went through training with Indy Reads, an adult literacy program. The volunteers go through a month of training and are assigned a person who has asked for help to learn to read. After my training, I was assigned a mentally challenged, thirty-year-old girl who wanted to color every time we met. Fine, but not exactly the contribution I had hoped to make. This lasted a few months before the mother switched days on me and got perturbed when I had a commitment that didn’t allow me to make the change she needed. I called the Volunteer Coordinator to see if I could get a new customer, but he told me that they didn't have any right then. He'd put me on the list to contact, though. I suppose I'm still waiting?
Next, I wanted to work with the Library Express here in town. They deliver library books to people who are homebound. A great cause! But I tried for two months and never got anyone to return a call or email. I continue to try periodically.
I can’t count the things I’ve shown up for and been sent home from because they had too many volunteers. One time, I was a tour guide through houses that had been renovated for a community revitalization project downtown. We had more guides than tourists. It was a little embarrassing.
My son and I packed military gift packages on several occasions. On one occasion, we organized three rooms of a warehouse dedicated to particular items in an effort to make it easier for the packers who would come behind us. We were in charge of organizing the Ziploc baggie rooms (yes, three rooms of baggies) (soldiers need baggies to keep their things dry and protected) into small, medium, and large bags. Not the contribution I was hoping as an example of charity for my son, but it had to be done. After we finished, we were told that they had received too many and would probably end up trying to donate them to shelters in town, and if they didn’t need them, they’d probably have to be thrown away. A Scooby-Doo huh?
This year, I signed up to donate three care packages to soldiers in Iraq at www.anysoldier.com and was told by two of the soldiers that their units had more than they could ever use and not to bother. The third one just wanted a picture of me.
So, that was it. I give up. Well, almost.
I’m thinking the elderly might like me. I like them. I think they might be forgotten and need some things. People don’t want to visit their own elderly relatives in nursing homes, much less strangers. So, I’m going to start a phone campaign and call places from a Seniors Magazine I picked up at the grocery store yesterday. And I’ll be optimistic until I hear otherwise. Wish me luck!