Person who said 'don't volunteer' was wrong

November 10, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

AFTER YEARS of searching, I have found my inner volunteer. She is selling hot dogs at high school games.

When my children were born, I thought I was signing a birth certificate. Actually, I was signing up for a committee. My life as a volunteer had begun.

But from my first nursery school snack day, when I was ashamed to realize how pedestrian Ritz crackers and peanut butter were, I have been trying to find my place among the people who don't have enough to do.

I have painted walls and planted flowers. I have made copies and laminated. I have graded papers and prepared pasta salads. I have sold wrapping paper, pizzas, candy, nuts and T-shirts. I have written newsletters, organized auctions, appeared on career day, chaperoned field trips and counted sit-ups.

I have produced a student newspaper, I have created the Birthday Book program, I have monitored in the cafeteria. I have served sundaes at an ice cream social and punch and cake at a graduation and spaghetti at a spaghetti dinner. I have chaired meetings, done dramatic readings and dressed up in costumes.

Once, I even spent 14 hours in an amusement park with 125 middle-schoolers.

Still, my heart has been restless. Nowhere had I found a comfortable volunteer home. With every assignment, I felt inept or out of place or overwhelmed or bored.

Until now. It has taken me a decade of doing things for free that they can't pay anyone to do, but I have found my niche.

I love working the concession stands at high school sporting events. This is me.

"A piece of pizza and a soda? That'll be $1.75"

I show up. I make change. I go home. No taking minutes, no phone tree, no night meetings. And I leave behind a pillowcase full of $1 bills and enough quarters to sink a rowboat.

The money will be spent on sporting goods that keep kids busy and tired and out of trouble. None of it will be spent to retire a building loan, buy computer equipment or purchase books someone will want to ban.

One of the unhappy by-products of the explosion of women, and especially mothers, into the workforce is that there is no one left to work for free.

Especially at schools, where women have always done so much, volunteers are dwindling to a skeleton staff. You can hold PTA meetings in the janitor's closet these days.

There are plenty of adults to chaperon a day trip, but few of us have the time to take on the big projects or the long-term assignments. Somebody is ordering the hot dogs I sell, and somebody keeps a chart with names like mine on it so there is someone like me to sell hot dogs at every game -- and the most generous cash donation won't get those jobs done.

Because so many of us can only break off a piece of our week and donate it, it takes tremendous coordination and cooperation to do what one or two mothers used to do. And the fathers have been recruited, too.

My husband wouldn't attend a meeting if it was held in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room and chaired by Bill Cowher. But he happily sells pencils, paper and pens two mornings a week at the middle school store.

Like me, he's found his niche.

A few years ago, at an elementary school reception to honor volunteers, my friend Nan was given a certificate for more than 1,500 hours of service. "I am sure it was a math error," she said.

Nan was being modest, but she may have been among the last of a very valuable breed. She has returned to work now, too, and the woman who once baked 500 perfect, star-shaped cookies for the kids in the Math Superstars program can hardly find time to drop off a bag of Oreos.

Because so many people are taking the course Nan has taken, it's more important than ever to our schools, churches and communities that parents find something they don't mind doing for nothing.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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