Volunteering takes toll on family

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, a time set aside to thank the community members who have given their time and talent to make a community a much better place.

While they (whomever decides what gets its own month) are at it, they should have a Volunteer's Family Appreciation Month.

Behind every successful volunteer is a family schlepping the mountains of petitions, setting up the newest activity, then helping at it and, of course, staying to clean it up.

For a volunteer's family (VF) it is is never just a one-hour commitment.

It is not easy being a member of a household where a "volunteeroholic" lives.

Members of a VF never get to eat the baked goods cooling on the counter.

I, myself, have shrieked, "Don't you dare touch those! They are for the bake sale!" Only to be too tired to make a batch for the family so they had to eat store-bought ones.

A volunteer's kid (VK) has it tough. They are going to be the first to have to make-do if something goes awry. If their parent is the scout leader and the badges come in with one on back-order, they are the one who has to wait.

If a head count was taken and they are one snack short, a VK is the one to do without and wait till they get home.

A VK also never gets to have the experience of learning a new activity with the rest of the group because to make sure that a project will go according to the directions, it's been tried out on him or her at least three times.

And not unlike a teacher's kid, a VK is expected to be a role model despite all of the above mentioned reasons why they could be unhappy.

The only one who can understand what a VK goes through would be the VSO. To nonvolunteer families it stands for the "Volunteer's Significant Other."

Who but a VSO would give up garage space to store empty milk jugs, baby food jars, toilet paper roll tubes and a mountain of plastic meat trays because six months down the road it will be an art project?

In the course of a VSO's life, he or she will drive thousands of miles, with 500 different kids listening to the same two songs over and over "A Thou-sand Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and "John Jacob Jingle Himer Schmidt" (Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah).

They will vacuum 100 pounds of mud, snack foods and objects so sticky they are afraid to touch them out of their rigs.

Only a VSO could still love the person who got them into such a mess.

My VSO has endured fixing cars, washing cars, bake sales, book sales, camping at minus 25 degrees and 1 a.m. printings of the school newspaper.

Instead of taking his vacation to a woodworkers retreat and learning how to hone his skills in the tranquil Appala-chian Mountains, he will spend it with 300 Boy Scouts at camp sleeping on a musty Army cot.

He has a great sense of humor about it, though. Every year when school starts he asks, "OK, what did you sign us up for?"

Volunteering has many benefits to both the giver and the receiver. For many volunteers, helping others gives them a feeling of community.

For those receiving the help, it offers comfort to know others care. Even in a small community like ours, it is easy to feel lost when you don't know who to turn to.

I am not quite sure what the VF gets out of it other than if they didn't go along they might never get to see the volunteer.

I am hoping for my own children that by watching our example, they will see the benefits of volunteering.

Setting aside a month to recognize volunteers and their families, is a nice gesture, but what volunteers need is our gratitude every day well, that and baked goods.

Nan Misner works for the Peninsula Clarion.

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