One of my most beloved values that I take from my childhood and strive to pass on to my children is the notion of volunteerism. Growing up, our family participated in distributing meals once a month at a downtown Milwaukee church and I recall this being one fun night. I still remember watching my dad goof around with the folks who were there eating and having a ball. He would sneak extra portions (which was a strict no-no) and just walk around chatting everyone up. My mom was usually with the gaggle of other ladies doing dishes in the kitchen and running interference with all the food. There was a core group from our church who went to this function every month and they are still some of my parents closest friends. It was a true sense of community that I felt when I got to go along and it is that feeling that I have carried with me all these years.
Finding the ‘right’ activity is really critical and I think it is what keeps many people from participating in volunteer activities. It only takes one bad experience to really thwart feelings of good will and I too have had my bad experiences. One year I sat on the board of the girl’s preschool and it was one of the worst decisions I ever made and it has kept me from PTA events to this day. I also worked for several months with a local children’s organization that was so mismanaged that I finally had to walk away from the weekly frustration I found myself in.
The next hurtle is finding a volunteer activity for a family with small children-which quite frankly is no easy task. Google searching “volunteering with kids” brings up ideas like ‘penny drives’ which are great, but wasn’t quite the hands on experience that we were searching for. In this day and age, kids aren’t allowed in many places (albeit for good reasons) but I happened to mention my frustration to my girlfriends one evening and my lovely friend Mrs. Traveler exclaimed “You should do meals on wheels! The people would LOVE to see the kids!” And you know what…she was completely and utterly right.
Four years ago our family started our journey of volunteering for Meals on Wheels through Independent Living. I can tell you with all honesty this is the perfect fit for us because it hits the main points we were striving for.
1-It is FUN and we get to interact with others. This was really key as we wanted the kids to understand directly who they were helping and why. It has been really interesting to watch the kids grow up doing this activity and how well spoken they are with adults. Let me tell ya, that boy is a real charmer with the over 75 crowd…..!
2-Independent Living is wonderful to work with. They have a top-notch volunteer coordinator who is mindful of our routes and has kept us in the vicinity of our home, which is truly wonderful. Finding an organization that partners WITH you is really key. From my first meeting I was truly blown away by how hard they work to make the process easy on their volunteers and how valued they make us feel as well.
3-The time commitment is reasonable. We deliver meals every other Monday and fill in on other days if needed. We know exactly when and where we need to be so we can plan our calendar around it.The longest our route takes us is maybe an hour (and that is if the weather is nasty). Most times we are done within 30 minutes!
4-It is family friendly. Everyone we deliver to LOVES to see the kids. They know our kids by name as well as our kids know all of them.
I know that this continues to be a great match for us as, to be honest, none of us ever complains about having to do it. After this many years, we have fallen into a rhythm and it is now just part of our family schedule.
The rewards continue to be both plentiful as well as humbling. We take a lot of pride that we watch over these individuals, particularly those without immediate family in the area. We have on more than one occasion been greeted with a person who has fallen down and couldn’t get up, but knew we would be there to help. We have helped deal with icy walks, listened to health concerns and decorated bags with notes of encouragement. We have delivered meals to people who live in tenements barely suitable for habitation and we have walked away and thanked our lucky stars for our tiny house. We have giggled and laughed while scrooching puppies and have made up a remarkable number of jokes that are required to be referred to each and every week (Ok, some of us think that last point is really annoying and wish we had never mentioned the troll who lives at the end of one particular hallway….and the kids will NEVER let me forget it…EVER).
So dear reader, on this National Volunteer Week I ask you to make your mark. Maybe it is walking down to that neighbor you haven’t seen all winter and raking their yard or dropping off a plate of yum yums (or eggs if you got em’) or maybe its contacting that organization that you always thought sounded great, and you always meant to help out but just needed a bit of prodding.
Community. That’s what I feel every time we deliver a meal. We are a part of this community and I will consider my job as parent a success if our kids learn and live one lesson, and one lesson only… and really its a pretty simple one…
…just be nice and respect one another….