Monday, September 2, 2013

Challenge Day #2

Do you enjoy doing volunteer work? Is there anywhere you volunteer right now?

A little recap for those of you that need it.  I accepted a blogging challenge for the month of September.  The theme for the challenge is:  Serve.  I am given writing prompts each weekday that I can use or toss out, and weekends are my choice.  The basic challenge is to write something every day.  Above is the prompt for the day.

Yes and No.

Yes and No.

Okay, it's been nice talking to you.  Hope you have a great Labor Day!

My sense of humor may be a little warped, but I have been up since 3:00 this morning. 

Okay - my sense of humor may always be a little warped, but I know you love me anyway.

This is a serious topic, and one that I have a lot to say about.  I do enjoy volunteer work.  It's nice to get together with like-minded individuals and do something for the greater good.  Most of us would look at that question and think in regards of working on a specific event, or working with a non-profit organization.  More-to-the-point, the question eludes to the organized organization or event.  The answer, yes.  I have volunteered with a non-profit organization and, yes.  I have volunteered for specific events that were organized and operating on a large scale.  I love these.  They are work, but the payoffs are usually really big!  You are raising awareness or money on a grand scale, and with a large group, the benefits to the group or organization are usually significant.

An example:

I volunteered for a therapeutic riding center in our town.  They provided horse-back riding lessons for adults and children with disabilities.  There were a number of volunteers that worked with that organization and the benefits to the participants were huge.  I never volunteered on the the rider side of things, but I did volunteer on the horse side of things.  This usually meant mucking stalls, feeding horses, rotating turnouts, etc.  It was more of a behind the scenes, day-to-day sort of thing.  I enjoyed it, but it was hard work.  At the time, I had four horses of my own and by the end of the day, I had spent the majority of it around poo.

To be clear, there is a lot of poo in this world.

If I get to poo wins!

Hands down!

I also worked the large event side of things for the same organization.  One annual event, the Regional Special Olympics competition, brought five similar organizations in our region together for a day of competition.  This was to determine which riders would progress to the the state level competition.  I was put in charge of organizing food for this event.  When I took over the lunch, they were struggling with volunteers.  They really just dropped it in my lap, and said, "Do what you want."  In previous years, food was purchased, volunteers prepared and served it, riders were given free lunch, and everyone else paid.  This usually resulted in barely covering costs and a lot of unhappy people. 

Never having done anything like this before, I did what one would expect.  I made a list.  I actually made a lot of lists.  Food lists.  Volunteer lists.  Lists for my lists.  Then I made a decision to change everything.  I started with a donation list.  From there, I sought donations from anyone and everyone I could get my hands on.  I was after food or money.  It took a little bit of work, but we managed to get all of our supplies donated - free and clear.  On top of that, we also managed to add breakfast to the menu.

Tip:  If you are seeking donations for an event or organization, have a list of sponsors and have in mind what you want each one to give.  Do not just show up on some one's doorstep and ask for a donation with out having something in particular in mind.  If you leave it open ended, you seem unorganized.  If you ask for something specific, they will say yes or no.  If they say no, they may offer something else instead or, it leaves you an opportunity to ask for something of lesser value.

Trust me.  It works.

Once the organization realized that all of the food was donated, they were thrilled.  Then, I really changed things up.  I told them we were not charging for food.  For anyone.  Period.  This really created an uproar, but having already given me free rein, what were they going to do?  While they were skeptical, they also knew they had nothing to lose.  I organized my own volunteers from family and friends and we managed all the preparations.  We decorated.  We were ready.

The day of the event came.  We were at the facility at 5:00 in the morning with coffee, pastries, and fruit.  If you have never experienced a horse show, the activity starts early, and don't think it was anything less because it was for Special Olympics.

This was REAL.

The thing is, there are a lot of volunteers.  People hauling horses, riders, gear.  Every school had their own horse handlers and volunteers to assist riders.  Then there were the spectators.  Moms, dads, grandparents, and friends came in to support their rider, plus all the others.

Tip:  If you have coffee brewing and food, and people have been up since 3:00 or 4:00 to get to your event, and you put a tip jar will make some bank.

We did not ask for a single dime at breakfast.  We had a tip jar placed near the coffee, and once people knew it was there, it was all over.  People literally dropped paper money in that jar because they were so grateful for a cup of coffee.  They were volunteers themselves, and the fact that we had spent a little time thinking of them and not asking for a thing in return - they melted.

Lunch was equally successful.  We served the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, fresh fruit, juice, water, soda, more coffee, and everything you could ever imagine to go with it.  We had anticipated approximately 250 people. 

No charge!

The executive director was a bit horrified, but she let me go with it.  Again, we put out our tip jar.  We asked for nothing.  They came.  They ate.  They enjoyed.  Riders, volunteers, and spectators.  They wiped us out of every morsel of food, and they donated.  At the end of the event, we had over a grand.  This was a vast improvement because in previous years they barely covered expenses.




I did this event for several years.  Each year, the same thing.  Others have taken it over now, and I believe they still use the same process.  So, yes, I have enjoyed volunteering on this level.  Whatever the cause, the organized event and organization is a great way to get involved.  It is fun.  You see an amazing amount accomplished in a short time.  It is a lot of work.  You can get a little burned out, and that is okay.  That is when you hand the torch to someone else.  They may have an idea to make things better.  The real thing, at the end of the day, when you put your feet up because your legs hurt so bad you can't stand on them one more minute, you talk about all the people and kids you saw.  The riders that were so excited about a medal they were wearing around their neck, or maybe just excited about the fruit salad they were enjoying because they live in a group home and fruit salad is a luxury.  Spending a day giving can be extremely fulfilling.  It truly is the little things that make the day.

As for the next part of the question, "Is there any where that I volunteer right now?"  It depends on how you look at things.  Do I volunteer with an organization?  No.  Are there people that I do things for?  You bet.  What do I mean by that?  I volunteer my time to individuals for different things.  I don't look at it as volunteering, because I would consider them friends.  Out of respect for their privacy, I won't go into detail about things, but volunteering is all around you.  Maybe you give someone a ride home or to work?  Maybe you run errands for an elderly person.  Maybe you babysit for someone.  Maybe you pet sit for someone.  The list goes on and on.  It doesn't take much to do something that will make a difference in some one's day. 

Is that volunteering or just being a decent person?

An example:

I spent a couple of years helping an elderly lady in our town. She was funny, stubborn, out spoken, very particular, and a fixture in our community.  Mostly, I drove her to the big city to do her shopping and we just spent time together.  That could mean a two hour phone call or an afternoon visit.  She was a quick wit, and lived alone.  A lot of people couldn't understand why I spent my time and money driving her around.  She could be a bit of a pain, but in my opinion, if you live to be in your 90's - You have earned the right to be a pain.  I enjoyed her.  She made me laugh.  She also really cared for me and my family.  What was the benefit?  I gained a dear friend that taught me a lot.  I wrote about her when she passed away, and you can read that post here:  City Girl .

Yes - I enjoy volunteering.  With an organization or with an individual, it is rewarding.  You can make a difference and you will be surprised at the difference it can make in your own life.  Mostly, I have learned that if you spend a little time thinking of others, you will spend less time thinking of yourself.

That can only be a good thing, right?

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