managing volunteers, non-profit, organizations, volunteer, volunteer coordinator, volunteer manager, volunteering
So many years ago, the famous New York Sun editorial of 1897 answered this letter from eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
This past Monday, I arrived at work, feeling pretty good. I had gotten more shopping done, and I was gearing up for some holiday events with volunteers. All in all it was a pretty satisfying start to the week, that is until a friend of mine brought me the newspaper. “Did you see this yet?” he asked and as I shook my head no, he gently placed the article in my hand as he walked away. I looked down, not prepared for the shock. One of our college student volunteers, Jay had been killed in an accident over the weekend. “No,” my mind screamed silently in my head, “not Jay.”
You all know Jay, you’ve had him (or someone so very like him they could be clones) in your midst too. A mere 21 years old, I immediately liked Jay when he came to see if I could help him complete a project for his marketing class. Within minutes of sitting down, I felt like I was in a planetarium watching a light show and his comet-like charisma made me want to help him. He smiled constantly, said hello to everyone that interrupted our conversations and proceeded to tell me about his major, film production. He excitedly commandeered my PC and pulled up the short films he was working on. He patiently explained lighting and blocking and the nuances that made each film look professional. Every time he would come in, he schooled me further on his studies and one day he emailed me to tell me he had landed a part-time job with an independent film company.
I can honestly say that every time he came in to see me, I lit up like one of the stars in the night sky.
But back to Monday. I put down the paper and cried. I thought of my silly shopping, my nice events with my volunteers and then I thought of Jay’s parents and what Christmas would now mean to them as they prepared to bury the body of their full of life son. I cursed the universe that I, nor anyone could bring him back. I wept for the meaningless loss of a life so full of promise. Jay had come specifically to see me two weeks ago and promised to come back and volunteer when the semester ended. I tried to comprehend that he wasn’t coming back. I didn’t know how much I could care about one of our young volunteers until I acutely felt his stinging absence.
We, volunteer managers work in areas of need and often our daily companions are sorrow and tragedy because sadly, tragedy happens every day. Our jobs are predicated on assisting others who can use our volunteers’ help and so, we are used to sadness and trauma. But are we comfortable with it, especially when it hits us like a black hole bent on destroying our very core?
The editor of the Sun answered eight year old Virginia in part by saying:
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
Monday, I wanted to not believe in the idea of Santa Claus, or in beauty and love and fairness and right, and I wanted to quit trying but that would mean no belief in hope, no belief in kindness, no belief that I can make a difference in this world, albeit a small one.
Does Santa have aches and pains, does he have days when it seems so hopeless? It’s easy to romanticize every act of kindness and to not see all the behind the scenes moments of doubt, uncertainty, and the desire to give up and give in when incomprehensible events knock us off our trajectory.
But we can’t. We must go on, we cannot stop our part in building a world of peace and kindness. We must ensure that our jobs are eventually obsolete because the world is filled with light.
So I’m going to get up again and even though it hurts so much, I’m going to get my hammer and go back to building this world of luminous hope even as tears spill over my worn shirt.
Why? Why bother at all since there is so much to stay our hands?
Because the alternative is unacceptable.
So, in the spirit of this season, here’s to all of you who get up at dawn’s breaking beacon to deliver the toys even though your heart might be aching, to all of you who stoke the campfires of warmth and comfort even though you’re sore and tired, and to all of you who smile through pain so that someone else might find joy.
And here’s to your memory, Jay, be at peace. Somehow, the rest of us have to go on now.
And to you Virginia? Here’s to the humanity, generosity and determination in us all.
Esta Peyton said:
thank you for the tribute to jay and to you for keeping on going and for your way of expressing what so many feel.
Thank you Esta, appreciate your comments very much. We know that helping others enhances our lives tremendously, but sometimes the path to helping is fraught with weariness, doubt, worry and obstacles. Here’s hoping that all the helpers out there are practicing some self care and getting some rest.