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Friday I had a frantic call from a mother whose son was in a remedial high school program for youth who were in significant trouble. She needed to have a contract for volunteering with our organization that day. Her son had to go back to school on Monday with a signed pledge that he would be volunteering 30 hours a week for our organization starting in December. 30 hours a week?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t let great adult volunteers put in 30 hours a week. I know some managers who do, but the success rate is very slim. The only way I let a volunteer give more than 5 or 6 hours a week is if they gradually increase their hours after having volunteered for a time.

More and more, we are getting requests for community service hours. More and more, alternative programs are requiring students to either get a job or volunteer. Since jobs are so scarce, volunteering becomes the answer and so we get the frantic calls by moms who are trying to navigate the system. Call me cynical, but I told her that I would be willing to interview them both, but under no circumstance would I promise we would accept her son just because he needed the hours. I told her that we could not give him more than 4 per week if we did accept him. She made the appointment for an interview.

You can bet the first question will be, “what did you do to land in this school?” If the answer is fighting or drugs then the interview is over. While it’s admirable to try to help those who have gotten into trouble, my question is always, “at whose expense?” I know if my loved one was a patient, I would not want a volunteer who just needed service hours or one who was doing a term paper or one who was lonely and bored. I would want someone who was there because they genuinely wanted to help my loved one.

I patiently explained to this mother that we accepted volunteers who put the patient first, who wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t think she got that part at all. She was too busy trying to navigate the system for her child.