Kissing Volunteer Frogs

12

March 9, 2015 by Jean

Volunteer work has long been part of my plan for retirement; making a contribution to some kind of larger enterprise is an important part of my sense of self. When I thought about this before I retired, I imagined some kind of regular (maybe once a week) volunteer activity that would make such a contribution while also drawing on my skills, helping to structure my week, and getting me out of the house to meet and interact with people. I didn’t give much thought to how I would find such a volunteer opportunity, and that has been more complicated than I expected.

My first attempt at volunteering was at a nearby food bank. I contacted the volunteer coordinator for the food bank by email and went in to meet with her and to tour the facility. It turned out that the food bank is a big warehouse and the jobs they need volunteers to do are mostly warehouse jobs. I found one such job that appealed to me, helping to pack bags of food that are distributed monthly to low-income senior citizens in Maine, and I made a commitment to go in every Wednesday to work on this. The packing operation is set up like an assembly line, with different stations for different parts of the process. I found I enjoyed the work best when I was working alone or with one or two other people, could work at my own pace, and could switch around among the various stations. This was making a contribution, and it used my skills for working carefully and methodically. But it wasn’t a place for social interaction, and the work sometimes required bending and lifting that aggravated problems with my lower back. The more volunteers were working on the senior food line, the faster the pace and the more like an assembly line it became, and the more unpleasant I found it. Some weeks, I would arrive to find that the senior commodity line was not running, and the alternative job I was asked to do was one I found both stressful and unpleasant. Last week, I made the decision that this is not working out for me and let the food bank know that I plan to stop coming in.

Sometime during the months when I was volunteering at the food bank, a booklet arrived in the mail detailing the winter offerings for adult education in my local school district. One of these was a one-evening orientation to volunteering in the schools, and on impulse, I registered for it. It would be fun to learn about what kinds of volunteer opportunities existed in the local schools. It seemed likely that I could draw on my experience and skills as an educator to make a contribution there, and it would be a great way to get better integrated into my community. Unfortunately, the session turned out not to be an orientation to volunteer opportunities in the schools, but an orientation to school district policies (e.g., privacy and security policies) for volunteers. The intended audience was parents and grandparents of children in the elementary schools who already knew what volunteers did in the schools and who wanted to get certified so that they could do things like accompany children on field trips. Another false start. (Although I still may contact the local high school to see if there is something I can do for them next year.)

Recently, another volunteer opportunity that I had never considered presented itself to me. When I signed up as a member of the local senior college (affiliated with OLLI – the Ohser Lifelong Learning Institute) and registered for a spring course, the catalog included a call for volunteers to serve on committees. The senior college is an all-volunteer organization, and I very much value the services they provide. This would be an opportunity to support that effort by doing some of the scut work that decades of experience on academic committees has certainly prepared me for. I can particularly imagine myself making a contribution to the registration committee (which includes doing data entry for the course registration process) or the curriculum committee (which evaluates course proposals and develops the curriculum). I’m also thinking about proposing a course to teach there in the fall, a volunteer activity that would certainly draw on my skills. I’ve just put my volunteer form for the senior college in the mail today, so it remains to be seen if this will work out.

I’m beginning to think that finding the right volunteer work might be like finding love; you need to be prepared to kiss a few volunteer frogs before you find your prince.

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12 thoughts on “Kissing Volunteer Frogs

  1. I love your analogy Jean. I have not been able to focus on volunteering yet…too much going on with family issues. But I expect it will be like finding the right job or the right love….thanks for preparing me to kiss a few frogs. Hope all works out. it does sound perfect.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, It took me several months to get moving on volunteering because there was just too much going on — in my case, with having the addition built on my house. I hope your family issues begin to resolve themselves.

  2. I love the frogs. 🙂 I have wanted to find that volunteer job myself but also be able to travel when I wanted. So far, I haven’t found it but I’ll be interested in your success with OLLI. 🙂

    • Jean says:

      Judy, I’ll be sure to report back on what happens with OLLI — both the class I’ve registered to take and the volunteering to do committee work and/or teaching.

  3. Jean R. says:

    You are tracking just like I did when it comes to finding the right volunteer job. Several I tried didn’t help me accomplish my goal of meeting people in the community. And I had trouble volunteering time in the winter with the bad roads. Finally, I settled on doing some case-by-case volunteer days at the senior hall and that has worked out well.

    OLLI. I can’t say enough good things about them. You would be a perfect person to develop a course to teach through them. Here, the OLLI classes can last anything from one to six sessions and they cover a diverse array of topics. I love taking classes with others in my own age bracket and without the pressure of taking tests. I haven’t been on any of their day trips but I’ll bet your OLLI has them, too.

    I love your kissing frogs analogy. So true!

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I’m hoping that I can teach the course I have in mind next fall because I’m getting quite excited about the prospect of being back in front of a classroom again and facilitating discussion — especially since it doesn’t involve any grading of papers or exams.

  4. Diana Studer says:

    I wish that I could be one of your senior students. Have found a Friends of Silvermine who will be working on the burnt mountain, once nature conservation allows people in again. And U3A, but I’ll be sitting on the learning side.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I’ll be sitting on the learning side, too, in my course on Forests and Fields of Maine, which begins this week. But I also learn a lot from teaching a course, and was thrilled to get a call this weekend from the co-chair of the Senior College curriculum committee. He liked my idea for a course on the history of women’s activism for fall, so it’s looking like that will actually happen.

  5. Kris P says:

    I’m impressed that you leaped into the volunteer arena early in your retirement, Jean. Although I may not have said it before, I’m retired as well and have long intended to seek volunteer activities as part of a well-rounded “next chapter.” However, during my first 3 years outside the paid workforce, I was plunged into a range of unplanned activities that including buying and selling a house and elder care responsibilities. The latter consumed most of my time and energies until last year, which was the first time since I left my workaholic prior life that I finally had time to unwind. Since the start of this year, I’ve been thinking seriously of finding a volunteer opportunity. I can appreciate the difficulty of finding the right alternative – I did volunteer work in a variety of settings in high school and kissed a large number of frogs! Best wishes with your ongoing evaluation.

    • Jean says:

      Kris, I’m going to have to adjust my mental image of you. For some reason, I had imagined you as a much younger woman, not my contemporary. 🙂
      It has taken me about 10 months since I packed up and moved from Gettysburg last May to finally feel that i am settling into my new retiree life. Part of the delay is that my life during the first 7 months was consumed by the construction work on my house.

  6. […] to get involved in volunteer activities that would connect me to my local community failed (see Kissing Volunteer Frogs). In my second year of retirement, I’m focusing less on geographic community and more on finding […]

  7. […] When my attempts to take up volunteer work during my first year of retirement fell flat (see Kissing Volunteer Frogs), I wondered if I was on my way to confirming that research […]

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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