Tuesday, May 11, 2010

For my next trick, I will transform myself from a misanthrope to an humanitarian!

So whenever I am desperate enough to post on Facebook about my despair of ever having a fulfilling life, my friends inevitably suggest that I get involved in volunteer work. They are correct, of course, in thinking that getting outside of oneself will natural lead to greater happiness. It has been proven to do just that. And I have, in fact, been trying to volunteer my time and effort. Here's what I have tried in the recent past.

Bleagh. Just, bleagh. Who knew parents were so political? Besides, all they want is people to do fundraising. You can't even pay me to do that job. I have done some informal volunteering at the school taking care of neglected trees and clearing weeds. I also volunteered (twice, once in writing and once in a direct conversation with the principal) to install a food garden next to the cafeteria. The project was not approved. The idea was floated at least once more by another individual (as a potential Eagle Scout project) and it was not approved that time either. Ben finds me too embarrassing to have me help out at his school. Helping in Michael's class makes me want to throttle him, an impulse I already spend a great deal of effort suppressing. And I am thinking maybe it would be best if I remained blissfully ignorant of Jillian's actual classroom behavior.

C.E.R.T. Team
I did Community Emergency Response Team training last year, thanks to my siblings being willing to watch my children during class time. The idea of CERT is that, in a large-scale event such as an earthquake or terrorist attack, emergency personnel will be overwhelmed by people needing aid. Trained members of the community can assist them by taking care of more basic functions like preliminary triage and basic first aid, small-scale fire suppression, and light-duty search and rescue. I enjoyed the training, but the mock-disaster event at the end of the course rather freaked me out. Some of the actors were pretty darn good at faking trauma. I would like to do more training eventually, but the training usually occurs at times when my children still need supervision. I am hoping for next year.

Atherton South Neighborhood Association
This is my local neighborhood association (not a homeowners association-we don't narc on the neighbors for leaving their recycling bin out overnight!) My neighborhood is a bit scruffy and most folks just want to be left alone. That's OK by me. My function on the association board is to be the CERT representative. To the best of my knowledge, I and the association president are the only folks in the neighborhood who are CERT trained, although I do have a HAM radio operator in the area as well. The association sponsored a tree planting last month. The five Brimleys all showed up, met our local city councilman, and helped plant a half dozen 8-foot saplings. Yipee!

Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards
Many people don't realize that Long Beach used to have a sizable wetlands. All that is left of it, after years of both legal and illegal development, is a degraded, scruffy, weedy patch of land pockmarked with antique (but often still operating) oil wells. Despite its unappealing appearance, it still functions as a breeding ground for various species of native birds, fish, and other wildlife. Given what is happening to wetlands worldwide, I support preserving this one as best we can. I help with their mailings and store their tabling supplies (the information that volunteers hand out when they have a booth set up at fairs and farmer's markets) in my food storage closet. I would do tabling as well, but it usually happens on Sunday mornings, when I am teaching Sunday school lessons to 7-year-olds. But that is another category.

Church Calling
I teach a Primary class (that's basically Sunday school, for those non-LDS readers out there) of 6- and 7-year-olds. I am certain I could never be an elementary school teacher. I prefer being in Primary to being just about anywhere else at church. And I think I need to volunteer for nursery duty soon, so I get one more crack at it before my knees give out.

LDS humanitarian efforts
The LDS church has a long history of humanitarian activities. In recent years, they have made a more concerted effort to lend a helping hand to people not of their faith. I have participated in these efforts by making quilts and putting together school supplies and hygiene kits. I have done these things both on my own and as part of organized "service days", like last weekends' tree planting project at El Dorado Park. 350 people showed up to do about 150 people's worth of work. (Uh, yay? Maybe I shoulda gone rogue and headed over to the LA River cleanup instead.) In any case, I always participate in service projects sponsored by my local congregation/s unless I have a children's schedule conflict. More info on LDS humanitarian efforts can be found at http://www.lds.org/humanitarianservices/, if you are inclined to see what kinds of things are being done in your area or how you can help. At present we are being asked to volunteer with charities in our own communities.

Which brings me to my next point. As the above haven't brought me much satisfaction yet, but well-meaning people (whom I generally consider to be intelligent enough to have some idea what they are talking about) keep telling me I should be doing service to feel better, I am going to try different service opportunities. It is possible I just haven't found the right one yet. The ground rules are that I must be able to do it weekday mornings (with my availability starting in the fall, after the kid's summer vacation), and I must be able to ride a bike to the location. I am determined to both incorporate physical activity into my daily life and reduce my dependence on pollution-generating modes of transportation. I'm an asthmatic trying to stay healthy and strong. So that means locations within about 5 miles from my house are best. These are the candidates I have found so far.

Local Library
This would only work the one weekday that my library branch is open in the morning. But one day is better than nothing.

Meals on Wheels
This would only work if they allowed me to help in the kitchen or in some other back-end function. I am not prepared to be a driver. My father volunteered in that capacity for some time and did an excellent job at it, but his experience is enough for me to judge myself not suited to cheer up the elderly and home-bound.

Arts and Services for the Disabled
Gardening with disabled individuals, various ages. I have very little information about this option, but as gardening is involved, it is on my list.

These ideas came from a search of volunteermatch.org. Have any others?


  1. I like the gardening idea. This morning I was thinking that you should take up the viola again. Probably not feasible, but I was wondering if that would help with the intellectual stimulation.

  2. On library volunteer work: so your branch is only open one morning a week. Do they have a storytime for toddlers or preschoolers then? Where do local folks go for their storytime needs? I don't know if you'd be interested in doing a storytime if your branch lacks one--it would be a long-term commitment and I'm doubtful that they would just let you start without you proving yourself as dependable and so on first. But, that's the most meaningful and helpful library volunteer activity I can think of for a branch that is open so few morning hours.

    The next-best volunteer jobs would be helping run the teen volunteer program, working for the Friends of the Library somehow, or (not so much fun) shelving and organizing. (You speak Spanish, don't you? That's always a plus. Spanish storytime is always needed...)

    There are also literacy opportunities--as long as you're at the library, check into their literacy program and see if they need tutors--the answer is almost always yes. Again, Spanish is a good skill there. The Church also has literacy programs so you could also ask them. Generally you would meet your student (tutee?) at a mutually-agreeable time and location, so that has possibilities I think.

    Oh, another thought--it sounds like you're primarily interested in getting out and working with others, but if you want to think about volunteer opportunities that involve sewing and needlecrafts, there's always Project Linus, SAGA's Wee-Care program, fuzzy hats for the hospital's NICU, etc.

  3. Yes, I think getting out of the #%#$%# house is key.

  4. I've been thinking about this since you posted on Facebook. My thoughts are that yes, you need to get out of the house but that you also need to find something that stretches your brain thus trying to get that intellectual stimulation. The sewing, gardening, etc. are all things that you pretty much know how to do so you are not stimulating your brain. I'm all for finding service/volunteer positions because I think that should be a mood lifter, but I think you should also be looking for another activity in which you can gain a new skill(s). Helpful or are you just rolling your eyes? :)