You know how some days just feel wrong? Today was one of those days. I had been reading some very interesting articles about volunteer management and started getting ideas that I could adopt for the volunteers I work with when a little voice said, “It’s Friday. Who cares? You’re overworked, underappreciated and tired of the struggle. Give it up.” I wasn’t happy to see any of the volunteers today. I wasn’t all that funny or nice or anything. I was blah.
As I was sitting there, staring at the computer, willing it to make me feel better, the phone rang. I don’t know about you, but when it rings on blah days, I sometimes let voicemail pick it up and then I call back later. It makes me feel more in control I guess. But for some reason I reached for it. Must be habit.
I answered and it was Monroe calling from Des Moines where he now lives with his mother. Monroe used to volunteer with us. He is 23 years old. He moved to our area with his Mom to look for work. They lived in an apartment a block from my office with no car, no job and little resources except a grandmother who lived in the area.
He came into my office three years ago and asked to volunteer. He is one of these really, really quiet types; you know the ones who answer in monosyllables. He speaks in a voice that barely breaks a decibel and looks down as he talks. He is covered with tattoos and piercings and wears nothing but black. He has a goatee.
To be honest, I took one look at him and wondered why on earth he would want to volunteer and would he scare staff, clients and other volunteers? I gave him the information for the next orientation and thought no more about it. Not only did he show up, he came to all six sessions, and participated, albeit in monosyllables. The other volunteers started to like him.
Monroe started volunteering in the office. He told me a little about his situation. I could lie and say he opened up, but he did give me some tidbits here and there. I happened to be working with some volunteers on a music project and I mentioned that to Monroe. He said he wanted to help. Now this is a project that a very select few volunteers who have extensive musical experience work on, but I brought Monroe along for a meeting and practice. He not only did anything asked of him, he asked to do more. He informed me that music was his passion.
From that day forward, Monroe became our go to guy for anything musical, whether it be production, setting up, getting snacks or toting heavy equipment. He became one of us very quickly and every single volunteer took him under a wing. I have to admit I drove him a few places and so did other volunteers. He was always very grateful. I got to see his apartment one afternoon when I gave him a ride home. He was very proud of his room.
His Mom could not find work and so they had to go back to family in Des Moines. I am not lying when I say I really miss him and so do the volunteers who worked with him.
After I happily greeted him on the phone, I asked him how he was doing and in typical Monroe fashion, he said “good.” I tried to extract more, but I did get that his mom had a job and so did he. He was working on writing music and doing well. He told me that he wanted to keep in touch with us and I was relieved. I asked him if he found a place to volunteer and he said that he had thought about it, but no, it wouldn’t be the same. He then told me that we were family to him.
We all have the chance to impact the lives of those we serve by providing the best volunteers we can. We all have those nuggets of success when a volunteer does a great job. But this is different. Monroe is a personal slice of joy for me. I don’t know how much his volunteering experience impacted him, but I can guess that we had a very positive impact on his self-esteem and psyche. I hope we did, and I hope that I never forget that everyone has something to offer. Volunteer managers are fortunate enough to be able to discover and cultivate the talents and desires of the folks we manage. The heck with blah. I’ve been reminded that it’s good.