Janie turned her email off and sat in stillness for a moment. She closed her eyes and let the emailed images draw her mind out of her body and into the air, a weightless feeling enveloping her spirit. She traveled out into the universe, passing galaxy after neutron star, marveling at the cosmic dust that created clouds of brilliance.
“This email came out of the blue,” she recounted. “I was having a particularly tough time, both at work and in my personal life and there it was, this one day. It was no monumental day,” she laughed, “but I opened this email from a former volunteer, Darcy, who was a student at the time she volunteered with us. That was about five years before and I always really enjoyed Darcy. She was sweet, but ambitious, smart, but humble and we had long talks when time permitted. She wanted to be an astronomer and taught me many things I didn’t know about the formation of the universe.
I hadn’t heard from Darcy since she left for college, but then, this day, I received an email from her. She was chosen to be part of a project at her university to study spiral galaxies and she emailed me some of the hauntingly beautiful pictures taken by the observatory telescope. I was so thrilled to hear from her, to hear how well she is doing. And I couldn’t believe that she remembered me and wanted to include me in her accomplishments. I felt like, in some small way, that I am part of her amazing journey.”
How fortunate we are to share in the lives of our incredible volunteers. In a wisp of a way, we are sitting there at the kitchen table as our volunteer shrieks with joy when opening that acceptance letter. Like a filmy shadow, we are standing right behind our volunteer who gently picks up their grandchild for the first time. In a small way, we are helping to wipe the tears of our volunteer’s grieving daughter or shouting with joy at our volunteer’s son’s soccer game.
Our relationship with our volunteers is so much more than directing them in tasks. We are not only interested in their gifts, but in their lives, because they matter to us. We hope that the echo of our encouragement follows them forever. We want them to hear our voices in their heads whispering, “you are amazing.” We strive to weave a coat of confidence that they can wear anytime they need some emotional warmth.
But we are not delusional. We don’t shape volunteers. Instead, we walk beside them as they shape themselves. We thrill in their accomplishments, and weep for their trials.
And hopefully, they will take a little piece of us with them as they reach for the stars.