In praise of Volunteers

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Walking into the Grand River Hospital this morning, I was struck by the large number of volunteers working. While waiting for my husband, one high-school aged volunteer noticed I was shivering from the air conditioning and brought me a warm blanket. I was so appreciative of this gesture of kindness. It brought me back to my days of volunteering at a downtown school in Woodstock. That story is actually tied into how I got my self-esteem back and how I got into teaching.

I was just 23 and had left a bad work experience in Toronto where I worked in radio. A station in Woodstock had an early-morning opening and I decided to take it, leaving behind my poisoned work environment amidst warnings that it would be career suicide. Shortly after moving, I noticed a small school at the end of the street where I lived. Intuitively, I went in and asked the principal if I could volunteer in the afternoons a few times a week. Each day, students and staff were pleased to see me, genuinely valuing my assistance and I quickly fell in love with the school environment. I believe that I got more out of volunteering than those I was helping ever got from me. They saved my self-worth and pointed me in the direction of my next career. After a few months I was encouraged to apply for the position of Educational Assistant and while in that position I applied to Teacher’s college. Teaching had never been on my career list. My father, although well liked by students, had been my high school principal and so I was determined to chart my own path in media. Years later, it would be my mother who pointed out that as a child I had regularly lined up my stuffed teddy bears and gave them my dad’s old ditto sheets from when he taught History. Yet I am so glad that it took volunteering to show me my true path.

My daughter starts her first volunteering job tomorrow and I am so excited for her. She will be working for the Niagara Conservation Authority in the summer camp program at Ball’s Falls. The program co-ordinator is a wonderful lady who welcomes Kaitlyn back as a volunteer after many years as a camper. It’s Kaitlyn’s turn to give back, but I’m willing to bet the experience is going to benefit her the most.

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