After attending National We Day with my son last week, this is something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about.
(Yes, We Day was a fascinating experience. If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it. There is much to learn, and see, and experience there, on so many levels.)
I am privileged to be able to volunteer. I am privileged to be able to write. One of the main reasons I can do both of these things, is that I was born in Canada. Not everybody born in Canada is as lucky as me, but many Canadians are. I was also born in Ottawa, to a middle class family – a family that believed in education.
When I met my husband, I met somebody who believed in many of the same things as me. He believed one of us should stay home with our kids, and he has agreed that should be me. His long hours in an office support my writing and, yes, my volunteering.
So, being able to volunteer is a privilege, and one I don’t take lightly.
It’s also true that, had I chosen to use my privileges in another way, I could be making quite a bit more money. At least, I think I could. Once upon a time, when people asked what I would do with my life, I told them I was going to go to Law School. I don’t think I ever really intended to do that, but it was much less daunting than saying I wanted to have children, and look after them, and become a published author. When I was growing up, girls with an education weren’t really supposed to aspire to staying at home with their kids. And getting published was then, as it is now, a long and difficult task – your chances of landing a publishing contract are much smaller than of being accepted to law school.
Not that I’m saying becoming a lawyer, and practicing law, is easy. I know it’s not. But I’m just saying, if I’d thrown my energies into that, the way I’ve thrown my energies into raising my children, and writing my books, I think I’d be a pretty successful lawyer by now.
So, yes, I could be making more money if I had made different choices, and if I “gave” less of my time away, but you still can’t purchase fulfillment. It’s not for sale for any dollar amount. And, until it is, I can’t put a price on the volunteer work I’m lucky to do.
I recommend volunteering, especially for writers (and parents), and these are some of the reasons why:
(1) You can make a difference. My main volunteer work is running the pizza program at my sons’ school. This is a whopping fundraising activity. It’s insanely successful, money-wise (thank you volunteers, thank you House of Pizza, thank you parents for ordering pizza!). It brings in a significant amount of money to our School Council, and is a major reason our Council can almost always fund any worthwhile initiative that arises. These include enhancing science, technology, physical activity, the arts, and more at our school and, at other schools we also contribute funds to. At our school, alone, that’s 900 students being impacted. I like to think of those 900 branching out and being equipped to do good in the world.
(2) You can learn things. Just using my experience as an example – we bring over 80 pizzas into our school every Thursday over 36 weeks, and distribute them to 33 classrooms. Everybody involved with this program is exposed, to a greater or lesser degree, to dealing with volunteers (parent and student), suppliers, administration, teachers, parents and money. Every week there is a problem to solve. Usually a new problem. This is a GREAT experience.
(3) You can get involved in things you wouldn’t normally be able to. This is an extension of learning things, but the fact is, I might not be hired to run a program like this if I was applying for a paid position. An employer might look at my English and Journalism degrees and say “Hmmm … really?” But as a volunteer, people will often take a chance on you. This is why, if you’re looking to gain experience in a certain field, or develop a new skill set, volunteering is a great way to do it.
(4) It can fill a gap. In my case, my once-a-week intense volunteering where I talk to many, many, MANY people of all ages and roles, provides enough social interaction to keep me going all week. I love sitting here, where I am right now, in my quiet house, typing, but a blast of being surrounded by other people is good for me.
(5) Do it for your kids. I literally do this volunteering for my kids – to raise money for their school. Once they’re out of this school, there are other things that really call my name, that I’d like to lend my time to but, for now, helping their school is important. I also do this for my kids because it keeps me in touch with their school – their teachers, their peers – I see how things work at the school. I have an “in”. And, finally, I do this so my kids will see me do it. I want them to think volunteering is normal. I’m so lucky to have my older son volunteering alongside me as one of our student pizza volunteers. I see him learning from the experience; gaining problem-solving and leadership skills, and I know it would be impossible to put a price on the volunteer work I’m privileged to do.