Our society is built on a economic system in which in order for there to be the success of some, the displacement and marginalization of others is often required. We are taught from adolescence what it means to produce and consume in an open market, and thus we must work for every dollar that we obtain. For most people, just working to pay the bills brings enough trials on its own, let alone thinking of how to help others when an individual is no better off than his/her neighbor. How can we encourage and sustain a healthy volunteer ethic, when society demands of us our time to produce capital just to survive?
I have three jobs in Chicago, and none of my employers pay me, nor can afford to….At least not in terms of monetary funds. What I do get in exchange for my work is field education, an open space to explore my talent, career experience, and an improved development of skills that I can showcase to any employer through my resume. This is more than any mediocre minimum wage part time job can offer in my journey of building a career based on a well-obtained and purposeful education. Volunteering is something I frequently spend time promoting, as I spent 2 years of life in a national service organization. I guess it is safe to say that most benevolent Americans can agree that serving others by giving our time to organizations that need is an overall good. Yet for many, volunteering is a privilege when life forces us to prioritize accordingly in the 10-12 hours of daylight we are given, and I find more non-profit organizations spending time on volunteer recruitment and fundraising than any other goal apart of their overall mission. Both are tasking but greatly needed in order to keep the organization in operation.
Most see community service to be for the “go-getters” of our community: the over-achievers or ones who have something to prove in holding their stake in society. Communicating to potential volunteers in order to see the benefits of service can often be more challenging than continuing to do the tasks of an organization alone. After all, most consider volunteering to be nothing more than free labour or have had to many negative experiences to ever put themselves in a position of helping others that don’t help them. Jam Donaldson, legal consultant and author of Getting Out of the Ghetto, recalls this frustration in relating to her volunteer work in the public school system:
“So many people who try to reach back and help the less fortunate end up getting bit in the butt as a result. It is hard to expect people to volunteer when classrooms are like a fallujah battlefield. How do we encourage volunteers to keep giving their time and energy after so many bad experiences?”
It’s a legitimate question. I don’t expect everyone to be as enthusiastic about volunteering just because my experiences in the service field have been positive and life-changing. Although, our goal as promoters of service is to call attention to the misconceptions of community service and offer our own experiences as truth. At Cabrini Connections, I have the opportunity to interview students as well as their mentors as part of College Zone. In the process of the initial one on one interview, we as College Zone Coordinators get the chance to really discover what drives many of our mentors and tutors to dedicate their time on a consistent basis. One of the things I’ve learned from them is that most of our mentors tapped into volunteering at a very young age. Many Chicago high schools require their students to do at least 30 hours of community service before they graduate; a referendum I am proud to say that I fully support.
One of the main things to remember in recruitment is checking into the self-interest of potential volunteers. The best organizations to serve at are the ones that continue to support their volunteers in continuing their learning process by providing them with tasks they enjoy. I remain reflective in these stories as well as my own experiences, as I hope to share them in learning more about how to utilize volunteer talent at the Tutor Mentor Leadership Conference which will be taking place this May. I encourage all non-profit organizations committed to the cause of expanding tutor mentor programs in the Chicago area to attend. As we work together in discussing community involvement, we can combine our insights in strategic planning to meet the needs of our city.
We can also continue to tap into the volunteer spirit by gearing up for Global Youth Service Day later on this April 24th. Cabrini Connections will be joining with City Year Chicago, a national service organization that works with inner-city youth in the Chicago Public School system. Projects for the day include transforming green spaces into park areas and making dolls for South African residents. More information on this day of service is available at www.gysd.org