Giving thanks can mean so many different things to different people. For many it means the thought and action of being grateful. But what I mean here, is thanking people for the kind acts of giving that they do, otherwise known as volunteering. And I don’t mean the type I often hear referred to by some members of alcoholic anonymous when they volunteer on the phones or for a twelfth step call. It drives me crazy when I hear that. That’s not volunteering! That’s service work and it’s not being magnanimous and coming from a selfless place. It’s saving your drunk ass and you have to do it to stay sober. No, what I’m talking about today is the act of giving thanks to those people who volunteer their time, resources and energy.
When I worked for a social service agency, we would receive many gifts, sometimes products and sometimes money, especially around Christmas. It was so appreciated and made a difference to the clients’ lives, but we were hard pressed sometimes, to get a thank you card out to the person. My mother, a long-time girl guide leader, is still leading a pack over fifty years later, of old-time leaders refered to as The Trefoil. Every year, they would ask what our clients needed and off they would go and gather the items for us. The only way they received recognition was by a thank you card, that if I didn’t send out, was at risk of never being sent out. People get caught up in the day-to-day survival of working and this was often overlooked. My point that if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done, was unfortunately shown shortly after I left the agency. After donating twice without any recognition, I told my mother she and the Trefoil should give to some other agency, which they did, a smaller community cause in their neighbourhood. Their efforts have been recognized each time, so I am happy they made the move.
The real issue and the reason for this post, is that people give and they need to be acknowledged and thanked for their contributions. The idea of course, is that volunteering is supposed to an act of altruism, be a reward onto itself. In my experience, unless I am doing something anonymously, I want to be thanked. Nothing big, but just a little something to acknowledge the donation, whether of items, money or time. I must say that my expereince with social service agencies and their treatment of volunteers, has been very abysmal.
Take Sue for instance. And this post may never see the dawn of light if she hates it. It is a bit of a ranting platform, not by her, but on behalf of her and others like her. Over the last three years, as she has struggled daily with the eventual blindness that will consume her sight. I have watched her give and give and give of her time, energy and enthusiasm to the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind.) Her experience as their volunteer nearly ended in her being bitter and resentful, but she stayed with it and things eventually worked out.
The problem began when a paid employee in a union position, stepped a little further away from teaching adults grade one braille and left a classroom in the apt hands (literally) of Sue. Apparently, this created quit a ruckus amongst the staff, as they politically debated whether this constituted the loss of a duty by a paid position. Then it meandered into the realm that Sue cannot be said to be ‘teaching’ the course as she did not have an adult learner teaching certificate. An interesting point, is that the paid employee did not have this certificate! Really, it was about a small group of individuals that became ‘that person.’ You know the kind, the ones who are so scared about being or becoming insignificant they try to take away from others and not allow them a moment. We call them many things, in my business they are referred to as ‘a tool.’ Apparently, she was told she can’t say she was teaching the class, but rather she could only refer to herself as an assistant. However, as she was the only one in the classroom, and she was doing all the lesson plans and instructing, I’m not sure who she was assisting?
This type of thing happens time and time again, out there, in the working world. While minnions rally for recognition and grab hold of whatever area can bring them some power and prestige, they grind the energy, good will and enthusiasm out of those around them. This is exactly what it did for Sue. She started to feel un-valued and used. And when we attended the volunteer appreciation day at the CNIB that year, the Executive Director didn’t even approach her at any time during the two hours we were there. And although it had been called a volunteer appreciation day, I saw only four volunteers being recognized, while a handful sat with Sue wondering why their time and effort seemed to go unnoticed. It was after this event, little by little, Sue started by withdrawing attending and doing any volunteering with the agency. She called it ‘taking a break.’ They probably didn’t even notice, which is half the problem. No one wants to feel unappreciated.
For Sue, it didn’t stay that way. They opened a hub and she started volunteering there and she became an ambassador of sorts for the CNIB. That’s all for another post where I tell you all how proud I am of her. The point of this post though, is to highlight something I have seen happen again and again at the level of social service agencies, many of whom rely on their volunteer hours. This is not just to help get the work done, but a United Way Agency must use volunteer hours in order to receive any money. As employees in these agencies, there is a responsibility to honour those people who are there cooking a meal, driving a client, pushing a wheelchair, or offering services during their spare time. I often wonder if the drop in volunteerism overall in our society, is not just because we do not have the same amount of spare time, but also because of the under-appreciation some folks are shown when they do show up!
Sue is not alone. I attended a luncheon after leaving my agency, as a recent ex-employee. I was still very connected to the agency, was known to the majority of the staff and invested in seeing the success of the agency. I had been participating in small ways through donating items and money, and had just begun to explore the possibility of making an application to serve as a board member. However, after being at the luncheon for a couple of hours, I had changed my mind, leaving the event very resentful and slighted. They had turned a donor and an ally off and away. The new Executive Director never once approached me during the couple of hours I was there (and she knew who I was as I was the only one in a police uniform.) Again, the un-appreciated. Afterwards I thought, “Shame on you Janice Hayes.”
We all need to be appreciated and recognized for the things we do, small and big. Volunteering is a value some people have, and I think they are our truly evolved in our society. For many, they just want a little notice. A thank you, an appreciation, a note, these all go a long way in helping them maintain the attitude and fortitude of giving in a thankless-type of duty. It goes a long way for the recipient.
Honour the volunteers around us. If you work at an agency, plan a lunch, send a cookie gram, highlight their good works in your newsletter. If you don’t work for an agency but you know someone who volunteers their time, write them a thank you card. They deserve it.
I wrote three thank you cards today for people I know that volunteer. I told them their committment and service were appreciated. Thank you to all you volunteers. Today I want to appreciate all you do.