I have a busy volunteer life. Folks who don’t know me may not know this about me; I try to keep the commitments down to a manageable level, however, the volunteer in me often supersedes common sense. It all seems to work out in the end; I gain so much experience and insight when I take on a complicated project. There are, however, drawbacks, too. Being good at coordinating takes many different skills, most of them learned by trial and error and baptism by fire, to coin a meaningful and painful paring of phrases.
When I began volunteering it was to gain experience and connect with others in the social services and mental health field. I did network but I also became a more confident visually impaired professional because of itt.
Now it is years later and I think about the first few months observing the family court system and I now know I would not choose to work in that particular area. That is one of the most valuable aspects of volunteering and taking chances: one discovers what one wants and also what one doesn’t want.
When I began volunteering on behalf of the Westchester chapter of the American Council of the Blind of New York in 2010, it was with both hope and a bit of fear – I wanted to chip in and help out but I also didn’t want to take on too much and let others down if I couldn’t complete a task. It wasn’t the smoothest attempt by any means but I came away with the knowledge that when it was once again my turn to lead a group of volunteers, I would not treat them so unfairly and then expect them to perform well. Benefitting from good peer mentoring came later and the folks who have shown me to be a fair and confident leader are still in my life today and I let them know how much they’ve helped me along the way.
I received an award a few weeks ago for Advocate of the Year and in my acceptance speech I said that it takes a village to make an advocate that my training to become a good advocate and to push for change took many years to develop. I didn’t just wish for advocacy skills and – poof! – They became part of me. There were many hours and even years of growing pains, of being rejected, of being told no, and being faced with dismissive and disinterested attitudes. Sometimes, when I couldn’t get anywhere with someone, I’d hang up and cry, or, yell into my pillow, so angry I wanted to lash out. Fortunately, I would get control of myself and use the anger to push ahead in a more productive manner.
It was also easier to advocate for others, I had to push even harder for my needs, perhaps because it was for me, the most personal type of advocacy, the advocacy of and for self.
Why have I said all of this? Read on and it will make sense:
In two weeks our State convention will once again convene and will hopefully be a success thanks to the effort of a handful of volunteers, many whom I value as being the kind of folks who roll up the proverbial sleeves and get ‘er done. Months of planning, hours of hair pulling, pushing, phone calls, and budgeting have almost come to an end. I am very excited, I think our group has done our best and I believe the post convention let downs will be few and the accolades wil be many. I wanted to post this before I get even more bogged down with the last-minute crazies and thank the following folks: Mike, Becky & Ron, Maria, Rita & Jim, Liz and family, Angela and family, Cathy, Audrey, Rich L, and all those members of WCB who have helped along the way. Special thanks to Lori Scharff, Albert Rizzi, my spouse, my daughter and all those who donated prizes and time to help us for the convention. So many people have stepped up and this is the best part about being a volunteer: the pulling together and sharing to promote a good cause.