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bridge and riverNo, I’m not masochistic. Not even close. My little world is filled with kittens and marshmallows shaped like flowers and moonbeams streaming through the forest. (after all, why else would I be in this job?) But, I also don’t want volunteers to lead me on. You know, tell me that I’m wonderful, that you want to spend time with me, buy me flowers… (oh wait, that’s a different conversation, oops).
But in volunteer management, I court the volunteer, right? I woo them with tales of how wonderful it will be, I walk beside them, listen, adjust, mentor, guide, run interference, and heck, put a bunch of time in, making sure volunteering will work for individual rewards. After all, it’s what volunteers want, right?
So, here, I think is my biggest frustration. I’m thinking of Yancey who had/has such potential. She is young and vibrant and full of compassion. She paid strict attention in training, and bright eyed, couldn’t wait to start. She was mentored by seasoned volunteers, and is truly magical with patients. She writes comprehensive reports. She passed every background test. She is perfect. Well, was. That is, until she just stopped.

At first, I assigned Yancey to a volunteer friendly nursing home. Both of the two current volunteers were leaving, but for different reasons. They had built a great relationship with the nursing home staff and together, they introduced Yancey to the patients and the employees. It seemed like a good fit. Yancey was excited. I called her frequently, answered any questions and assumed things were working out.
Two months later, she stopped sending in reports. She did not return my calls, nor did she answer emails. Then an email I sent bounced back at me. Still no word. I checked with the facility and they had not seen her in weeks. I finally, reluctantly removed her name from our list and started searching for another volunteer to take her place.
Was I mad at her for not wanting to volunteer anymore? No. This is, after all, volunteering. Would I judge her for her reason to stop? Absolutely not. If volunteering isn’t adding to someone’s life, they shouldn’t be doing it. Did her stopping ruin my life? C’mon.
But, do I wonder what happened? Would I rather hear the reason even if it means finding out I failed her somehow? Absolutely. How else can I correct a situation or behavior if I don’t know about it? I suspect that Yancey couldn’t fit volunteering into her busy lifestyle, or more accurately, volunteering with those patients wasn’t rewarding enough to fit into her busy lifestyle.

I could have told her that this is not my first experience. I’m used to volunteers leaving for so many different reasons. At least for some, I know why. That helps. For others, they float away like an unfinished manuscript dropped in a river. If only….
I may pen her a letter but I truly wish I could have spoken to her and offered her something else or a more flexible schedule. It may have worked. But if not, at least I could have assured her that she was welcome back at any time in the future. I could have told her that she was a good volunteer and that she needn’t be embarrassed about quitting. I suspect that may be the case.
But I don’t know. I wish I did.