Are school volunteers a dying breed?
Our high school’s Project Graduation event, as well as the arts, school athletics, and athletic boosters programs, are very near and dear to me. The last few years, I’m disappointed. I repeatedly see a low level of parent involvement and desperate pleas for volunteers. The same 23 names are somehow attached (organizing, set-up, execution, clean-up) to nearly every school and sports event. Am I the only one who has noticed a significant decline in school volunteerism? Nope. I’m not. How do I know this? I’ve had the “where is everyone?” conversation with coaches, teachers, and most of those 23 people, because I’m one of them. What’s more, I no longer have children at the school. Yes, I am staying involved as an alumni parent! Why you ask? Why not? I have a few good reasons. 1) Schools and school parent groups need your help. 2) Giving back, at some level, to the community my girls benefited from is important to me, and I hope other parents (current and alumni) will be encouraged to do the same. Finally, 3) Many current parents do not appear to be willing.
What’s the deal people?
Uh, hello? Is anybody there? (crickets)
What is it about the word #volunteer that makes people cringe? How is it we have become a society chock full of “I don’t have timer’s”? Real talk: Most of us have a few hours to spare. I mean, let’s be honest here, with social media a swipe away, how much time do you spend perusing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr…I could go on. All the while, staring blankly at your “friend’s” photos of themselves, their family, food, hilarious (or not) videos, vacations, their dog, or what happened on the latest episode of Fixer Upper. Or worse, consuming a nauseating amount of fake news, real news, political opinions, celebrity gossip, actual facts, and alternative facts. Nearly all of us are guilty. According to a 2015 survey, on the Digital Trends website, Americans aged 25-54 checked their phones an average of 17 times per day! That is equal to at least once every waking hour. THAT. IS. STAGGERING! There are 1600+ parents/guardians at the high school my daughters attended. Forget time in general. Can you imagine what could be accomplished if everyone simply gave a few hours of their “social media” time? I can! In fact, if you volunteered, and took a photo (or two, or three) while you were helping out, you would have something really inspiring to post and you would promote community involvement! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s considered a win-win?
In some cases, money appears to be another detour around volunteerism. It seems many people would rather write a check now as a substitute for their time. It’s not that parent groups don’t appreciate monetary donations. They most definitely do! Sadly, in this era of shrinking school budgets and disappearing programs, there is a very real and desperate need for donations, both monetary and physical! Contributions of time and money are the lifeblood of public education in California!
Seriously though. Why is it when you dare utter the “V” word, people hightail it for the exits? Geeez! It’s not like I said something offensive. I didn’t even ask for their right arm, or first born. It’s only a few hours and if you just ask, there are ways for everyone to be involved! I know you’re busy. We’re all busy! LIFE IS BUSY! We need to reverse this trend and change the culture.
Let’s pause for a minute. Before anyone is offended by the last few paragraphs, allow me to clarify one thing. I absolutely understand that some people, really and truly, for various reasons, are not able to give. The funny thing is, more often than not, those are the people who some how try to give time and/or money anyway. If you are that person, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you!
No, I’m talking to everyone else. Where are you hiding? Your children, your friend’s children, and don’t laugh, but even your “frenemy’s” children. They need you!
There are pitfalls to having the same people repeatedly be the “go-to’s” for every event. Our annual booster crab feed this year is a great example. We ran the event with a bare bones crew. It all went pretty smooth until it was time for the auction check out. The line and the wait were long and there were only two of us to do the payment processing. I appreciate that most of our guests were patient. Maybe it was all the wine? Lol. One guest did skirt the line to come complain directly to me. She wanted to know why on earth, with such a large crowd, we didn’t have more people ready for payments and she didn’t really have the time to wait in line. I took one very deep breath, then apologetically responded, “I must have missed your request to volunteer. If you leave your name, I’ll be certain to add you to our list for next year!” For a moment she looked surprised, but shuffled herself back to the end of the line. When it was finally her turn, the only words she said were “thank you”, when I processed her credit card.
She’s probably a very nice gal and it’s easy to be critical when you’re not involved.
When I began volunteering, my girls were in preschool. There always seemed to be an overabundance of help. Teachers had enough parent names that they were able to shuffle them around. Nobody felt overburdened or left out. For 5th and 6th grade camp there was a lottery to see who would be chosen to chaperone. Then we moved on to middle school and despite a serious economic recession, which forced a lot of stay-at-home parents back to work, a high level of parent participation continued.
I really began to notice the drop off when my oldest began high school. By the time my youngest arrived, the tide had shifted so significantly it was alarming. As soon as help was needed, all but a few parents would excuse themselves. As a volunteer and fundraising coordinator, for several school related events over the years, here is a sampling of the myriad responses I have received…
- “I’m far too busy.”
- “She’s in high school, they don’t need volunteers in high school.”
- “I don’t do things like that.”
- “I have no skills to offer.”
- “I would really rather not.”
- “You don’t really need me, do you?”
- “It’s a two hour shift!”
- “My kid doesn’t want me there.”
- “I’m just going to write a check. Money is better than time anyway.”
- “No thanks, I’m good.”
- “Somebody else will do it!”
- “You’re the stay-at-home mom. I work, so I would rather go ride my bike.”
The last one is my personal, all time, one for the books, favorite.
I’d like to tell you WHERE you can ride your bike…
The answer to all of the above excuses is: Your answer is incorrect. My husband always says; “you’re either part of the solution, or part of the problem” and he’s right. He chooses to be part of the solution and has been a soccer coach, at the school, for almost 10 years. Some will argue that he gets paid. For the record, none of the coaches that I know do it for the money. For kicks, we worked it out one time. After a minimum of 20 hours per week and personal funds spent on equipment the school district does not provide, he makes far less than minimum wage. Peanuts really. He simply does it for the benefit of the kids and his love of sport.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but as your children navigate their teen years, multiple studies have shown that high school is a time when parents need to be the most engaged and involved. I’m not talking helicopter parenting here, just some visibility. Your kids spend 35+ hours a week at school. Showing interest in their education and activities and being visible benefits them in countless ways. Bonus: Your time not only enriches your son or daughter’s life on several levels; you also enhance the lives of fellow students, the educational environment as a whole, and when you give back, the example you set for them is priceless.
It really does take a village. Is a shift at the snack bar, a few hours at Project Graduation, or helping to brainstorm, set-up, or clean-up at a fundraiser really too much to ask? It’s time you can’t get back and in the big scheme of things, it’s time well spent! If you’re already out there making a difference, thank you! If you’re not, please get involved and volunteer!