Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I have vague memories of being a ‘Candy striper’ for a few moments in high school..or rather of the unflattering shirtdress-styled uniform. But I’m not really sure. Maybe it was my sister who was? A career in the healthcare field was never in the cards for me.

What I do have are vivid memories of my first volunteer experience at a nursing home when I was in junior high in the early 1970s. They weren’t called assisted living facilities then, and what those elderly people were doing there could hardly be called living.

In high school, I volunteered in a classroom of special needs children. Never had I considered being a teacher a career choice, either. I knew I would never have the patience to teach students with any needs, although I enjoyed my time volunteering with Special Olympics.

(Note to all my former college students: I did gain more patience by the time y’all and I were in the classroom together!)

Fast forward a few years, and my volunteer ‘career’ started in earnest: my eldest son went off to kindergarten. Oh the marvelous opportunities for mommies and daddies to be a part of the classroom experience. My first foray was to the pumpkin patch one sunny fall day to ride herd on a bunch of five and six year-olds as they selected their future Jack ‘o Lanterns with other parents.

And for the most part, for the last 17 years I feel I did contribute as a volunteer and did have my own life enriched. My favorite ‘job’ ever, paid or unpaid, was working in the North Elementary School library in Morgantown, West Virginia. My boys are nearly five years apart so I had plenty of time to spread my volunteer wings. Then-librarian Vicki Wilson remains one of my favorite people ever and that’s where I developed my adult love of young adult and middle grade books. Not to mention the joy (usually) of helping kids in a book CENTRIC environment.

Numerous highs, and the occasional lows, have occurred over the years. All the Read Aloud time in the classroom (which my husband participated in also), the homeroom parties (wrapping kids in toilet paper at Halloween to turn them into silent mummies remains one of my favorites), the middle school trip to New York City where one mom abandoned her group to go off on her own, which resulted in my group gaining one of my older son’s best friends still to this day, the list seems, well endless.

Until today.

Tonight is a sports picnic, which I’m marking as my final act ever of mom volunteerism. This year, along with a super awesome group of moms and dads, I was a ‘spirit’ mom for two sports.

Recently I finished three years of being involved with our church’s middle schoolers, two as a confirmation small group leader. I wanted to ‘pay it forward’ because we moved here when our youngest was in 8th grade, and he received a warm welcome at this church. I had a wonderful group of girls, and the class as a whole was lively and engaging.

But it’s time to ‘retire.’ My youngest graduates from high school next year and heads to college.

I wouldn’t change anything about the experiences of the last 17 years, except maybe the accidental-crashing-glass shelves-laden-with-snow globes debacle that involved 5th graders at a museum in Pittsburgh years ago….

Being a volunteer is not about ‘you’ (me), but I do cherish one memory above all else….

I’m in the middle of a crowded CROWDED ballroom at the student union at a university for a ‘don’t do bad things’ field trip with middle schoolers. All the schools in the county have sent their kids for this fun educational activity. The snow globes shattering woulda been preferable to this….

Somebody tells the kids to sit down for the ‘fun’ lecture so I sit down with them and look around. I’m the only adult sitting on the hard floor. So I say to no one in particular:  “Why am I the only parent sitting on the floor”?

To which one of my older son’s classmates replied “Because you care.”

I did care.

Of course there was the time as PTO co-president, I left a meeting rather than take a swing at the principal – verbally – and the counselor had to talk me off the ledge…but for the most part it’s been a great ride.

And I never lost any kids on any field trips…permanently.


  1. "Because you care." Wow. That's one of those small comments and small moments that should make you feel good your whole life!

  2. Loved reading this because I too did my stint of volunteering. First at school as "room mother" for each of our girls, several years each. Then later on in a nursing home as a sort of activities director where one day I was called to be a bartender for a singalong. Very funny. one guy even brought his own bottle of scotch. And I knew nothing about mixing drinks. I think I had a drink guide.
    Anyway thanks for sharing your memories. My most vivid one was of riding on a bus with seventh graders as they all filled the air with their hair spray!!!

  3. I never had a job after I married. I was a stay at home mom, so I was always at all the school activities helping out. I felt like I was a mother to all the kids. They all knew who I was and I loved helping out. I love the "because you care" comment. Those moments are what makes it all worthwhile. Until I get paid,I still fell like I am a volunteer with my writing. I love my writing, just like I loved volunteering at school, but I am waiting for that day when someone else loves it enough to compensate me for my time and make my writing worthwhile, too :o)

  4. Thanks so much all..Mike miss you!
    Barb, I love the bartender story!
    Janet, you are a REAL writer...keep writing!
    xo all!