After two kids, two elementary schools, hundreds of encounters with teachers and parents, four years of service in the PTO, one tired husband, and one global pandemic, I sometimes find myself asking “Why? Why do I keep volunteering?” Being a board member on the PTO sometimes feels like a full time job. As the Treasurer, I’m constantly counting, organizing, and spreadsheet-ing like a mad woman. I’ve spent hours on my computer at home after my kids and husband have gone to bed working on events, balancing the books, or sending out emails asking for silent auction donations. I’ve stayed at school late helping decorate for holidays, set up for an event, or helping work afternoon carlines. Sometimes, in mere exhaustion, I ask myself “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I sacrifice family time? Why do I do this for free?”
Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by my volunteer commitments, I am very quickly reminded of “why”. Last month, I went to my kids’ elementary school out of obligation for our first annual Boosterthon Fun Run. I was excited, but I was also personally worn out. I showed up because the Special Education teacher had asked for volunteers to help keep her kids on track (both figuratively and literally). The kids wanted desperately to participate in the fun run, but the teacher knew they would probably hit their limits at different times and would need to go inside or take breaks. That would take help. So I went. I walked into the school even though I was tired from taking care of my own kids that morning and struggling to get them to school on time. I walked down the hall to meet the Special Education teacher even though I honestly had a bit of a sour attitude about being there at all. And I walked toward the 90-something degree weather, pushing the wheelchair of a six year old boy. As I walked down the hall with that boy, I was reminded once again of “why” I volunteer.
My six year old buddy could hardly contain his excitement for the run. He kept turning around, looking back at me, grinning from ear to ear. He was laughing loudly because he was so excited. He physically jumped up and down in the wheelchair because he simply could not wait to get out to the track. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh too. My sourness instantly turned to excitement. My exhaustion was gone—I was rejuvenated by that boy’s positivity. He and I had the best time going around that fun run track. He waved to every parent that showed up to watch their kids run. He never stopped smiling, not once that day. Neither did I.
So if I had to answer my own question of why I volunteer, I would say this. I volunteer for him, and for kids like him who wouldn’t have been able to participate if it wasn’t for someone to push his wheelchair not just TO the track, but 35 times around the track (maybe more). I volunteer for the teacher who want the best for her students and just needs some extra hands and eyes, because I’m sure she is tired too. I volunteer for the school as a whole who is simply trying to raise money to stock the library so 725 students can be excited about reading and have more choices of what to read. There are so many reasons why I volunteer, and they can all be summed up in one feeling that it gives me: JOY. Volunteering has given me so much more than I can ever give back. It gives me joy: heartfelt, honest, natural, unexpected joy. When I step up to volunteer, I’m able to give something that money cannot buy: love for the students, assistance for the teachers, support to the school, smiles all around. And that gives me so much joy that I want to keep doing it over and over and over again. Do I still get tired? Of course! But it’s always worth it. The joy of a child sharing his excitement and a teacher thanking me from the bottom of their heart: that is pure joy to me. So I’ll do it. I’ll show up, even when I’m tired or overwhelmed. I’ll suit up with my mask and my coffee and I will give my time with extreme gratitude for the joy I’m given in return.