"You can use me as a last resort, and if nobody else volunteers, then I will do it ... not to sound like a jerk."
This was an actual reply from a parent after I put out a plea for volunteers for my kids' lacrosse club. Maybe the comments' brutal honesty should have irritated me. Instead, I fell in love with it. Why? Because it sums up what many parents feel but don't have the courage to say.
There are no excuses or lengthy explanations. She just doesn't want to volunteer. There's a hint of self-preservation and an unwavering understanding of her limits.
I'm envious of this parent. I wish I could be more selective in how I choose to volunteer or lend my support to a myriad of causes.
Instead, I'm addicted to volunteering. And in the end, I'm probably being selfish.
I volunteer for just about everything. I am organized and love meeting people brought together for a purpose. I work like a whirling dervish at fundraising. I understand the mentality behind the parents eagerly following a youth sports team. The camaraderie and the excitement of rallying together for an event, team, cause, or party gives me a real buzz. Seriously. I'm not making this stuff up.
I still well up like a geyser upon hearing the national anthem before a game and wipe away a tear when watching a coach spend extra time with the worst player on the team. I love the early morning set-up before an event or the flurry of emails before rolling out a new program. I even get off on having six lacrosse sticks lined up on my kitchen table before the first day of practice.
So when I ask for other volunteers, and no one bites, I find it, well, bizarre.
At first I speculate that there's probably some demanding work schedule, social anxiety around stepping up to help for an unknown sport, or maybe just little knowledge of the event or cause. They just need a little coaxing and some clear guidelines to steer the way to a fulfilling volunteer role. So I ask again. This time I want to find a tactful way to say that the same families always seem to coach, bake, donate money, line the fields, or wash jerseys season after season and for event after event.
So I try again and tug at the heartstrings. My hand is forced as I mention the single parent with four kids running the show. I talk about the dad coaching a team that his kids aren't even on. I highlight the broke millennial coaching kids just to get involved in the community.
At this point the reluctant parent who doesn't want to sound like a jerk speaks up. With deadpan clarity I'm told, "I'd rather poke my eyeballs out with an ice pick. But yes, I'll do it."
I'm secretly relieved because I know there's real power in sharing volunteer responsibilities among many.
The reluctant parent organizes the snack schedule, sends out emails, collects money for end-of-season gifts, keeps parent morale high, and tracks down an extra pair of cleats for the kid who misplaced his during the last game. They take their role earnestly and jump in headfirst.
Somewhere along the way, the same parent ends up becoming an invaluable member of the team. The coach is able to focus on the kids while the other parents are relieved to be off the hook for another season. Handing out sliced oranges to bloodthirsty kids can be as exciting as watching your own kid finally score a goal.
Still, most of us volunteers breathe a sigh of relief when the season comes to a close, when the last email is sent, when finishing up with a lame committee, or when the late-night fundraiser is finally over. That relief is coupled with a deep understanding of why the same people keep coming back for more: Connecting to the community as you freely give your time, money, skills, or services provides a real joy. Volunteering just feels so damn good.
In that sense, I'm pretty sure volunteering is more of a selfish act than I'd freely like to admit. However, if others benefit in the process, and I reap some intrinsic reward too, does it really matter where my motivation lies?