Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has become a day of service. Choosing specific days of service is a wonderful thing–soup kitchens on Thanksgiving, donating to Toys for Tots during the holidays, volunteering on MLK, Jr. Day, etc. I also value incorporating kind deeds of service throughout the days of our lives. I try to support the concept that one of our purposes in life is that we are to be of service to others. As we consider how we can be of service, I’m reminded of what happened over this past summer.
The kids were looking through the local newspaper and came across the section listing volunteer opportunities. We had talked previously about finding ways to engage in activities that interested them as well as helped others. The Boy saw that a local nursing home was looking for students to come play an instrument and care for the garden. He was excited to do both. I was excited because this would be an opportunity for him to learn how to have conversations with adults, learn about other people’s lives, and interact in environments he was not used to. Also, if he could pick up any gardening tips, I’d have been so grateful. Win-win-win, I say.
So I call the volunteer coordinator, and we had a chat. She was surprised to hear my son was ten years old, and that he wanted to volunteer. We talked at length and she decided he was too young to pull weeds in the garden, but he could water the indoor plants. She decided he wasn’t proficient enough on his violin, so he could just chat with their clients instead. Then she asked if he could come every week on Friday afternoons from 3:30-4:30. I said we would not be able to reliably make every week, and perhaps once or twice a month would be a good start. I reminded her that The Boy is only ten. And he has other activities and homework. And that I work. Every day. And I have another child. Every day. And that such a rigid schedule for chatting and watering houseplants seemed a bit incongruent.
Then I find out what her hesitance is really about. She explained that high school students are required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours to graduate. And that if The Boy took one of those slots, someone who really needed them would not get those hours.
So here we are. Where children are mandated to volunteer. Mandated to help others. Really? What kind of world do we live in when we have to coerce people to help others? Isn’t that sort of the antithesis of the concept of volunteering?
And so here we are. Here’s a kid who wants to help out in whatever small way he can, and when he’s reached out to offer, she says no. It wasn’t what she’s looking for. He didn’t fit the bill. She couldn’t be flexible and problem solve–problem solve this problem of overabundance, by the way. The Boy couldn’t understand. He just wanted to be helpful and friendly. I had told her we’d gladly go through all background checks and health screenings and anything else.
They weren’t interested. I don’t want to hear it when people complain it’s hard to find good help. They don’t know good help when they see it. Help arrives in all different sizes and shapes and forms. Since this currently is not the world I want my children to both live in and lead in, we’ll continue to take our different shaped and sized help to whoever can recognize it. And I’m always grateful for any gardening tips. Really. All I can grow are weeds.