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Volunteering Equals Win Win

Written by Marci Garson

by Marci Garson

You’ve worked like a dog, raised your kids and now there’s a new equation: Volunteering one-on-one= win-win.volunteering

The first time we met 6 year–old Michael, he leaped out of his seat and threw his arms around my son Tosh.  “My very own volunteer!” he exclaimed as the social worker gently reminded Michael, “Big boys don’t hug, they shake hands.”   My son and I had already been prepped to be aware of our physical contact with Michael because, like the 300 other kids who live at The Pleasantville Cottage Schools in Westchester, NY, he had been physically and mentally abused and neglected.

 

Tosh was 14 when we began seeing Michael.  My son is now a junior in college and with both of my children out of the house I am able to spend more time at the Cottage Schools. I volunteer to help organize much needed fundraisers for the Jewish Child Care Association, the non-profit organization that runs the school and is responsible for every detail in these children’s lives from their toothbrushes, to their education and psychiatric care. Still, I have discovered that nothing is more rewarding than one-on-one contact with a needy child who has no one else in their lives that they can depend on.

And I am far from alone. At a meeting for volunteers on the Westchester campus the staff lauded the group for giving their time, explaining that these kids, who don’t trust anybody, now have someone who choses to be with them, despite their behavior and that helps give them the continuity they need. Many of these kids have never ever had a birthday cake or card, or parents that even remember their birthdays.  But the volunteers do.  And they remember their mentee’s favorite game, favorite book, and favorite color.

Still, while the volunteers were being praised, it was the opportunity to be with these children that we were grateful for. One mentor explained how she was a different person in her mentee’s life than any one else; she was not their mother or the sister, and that, she said opened up a whole new relationship.

Another woman, named Judy, started to cry when talking about how close she had became to the little girl she mentored. She said she would drop everything to be at the campus for this child.  I understood – Michael would stare at the clock every Tuesday at 4 o’clock and when Tosh and I would walk through the door he would yell to anyone who would listen, “My volunteers are here, my volunteers are here!” Imagine how that made us feel.

The rewards you get from spending a little of your time with children who have so little to be thankful for is hard to describe.  I think Judy summed it up best, albeit a bit bluntly.   As she put it, “These kids make you feel like you are the s***!”  

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