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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spending my time like money

I learned long ago to really be cautious about how I spend my time. I began to think about my days as $24 dollars. I had to spend it all before the next day. What would I buy? For some reason this has really worked for me.

In the last several weeks I have been spending my time in one of the best ways possible. I've been volunteering. And I think that I'm getting more out of it than the organization I'm volunteering for. And they are over the moon to have me there, so you know I'm beyond loving it.

Let's back up. Last year my cousin inspired me. (I may have told you all this before) Actually, more like she put me to shame. Not in a conscious manner, but by living her life. While her son was in elementary school she was on PTA and then became PTA president. Then her son went to middle school and her terms of office were done. Well, in the year that her son wasn't there the pta almost fell apart. They lost important donations because no one was doing the actual programs that had been created. The money that they did have wasn't being used. It was a mess. So what did my cousin do? Yep. She is president again. And her son doesn't even go there anymore!!! What really got me is that she had organized a book sale and took 2 days off to run it. 2 days off without pay. This woman has a family, has a 40+ hour job. And she was volunteering. Lame=me.

After being put to shame, I really thought about where I wanted to spend my time. What did I want to support? What did I believe in that strongly to give up prime reading time laying on the couch?

I decided to put in a volunteer application to a well known women's health and family planning center. Let's just call it PP, as I'm sure that you all know what it is. The app. was pretty fierce, involving a background check and essay like questions. While describing what I was willing to do for them I made it very clear that I wanted to be behind the scenes either in the office or the clinic. I know that fundraising, committees and lobbying are not my strongpoints and I would not follow through. I would dread those things. But I knew that there were probably many little jobs around that the people that make the admin. run had to do.

And then I waited. And waited. The volunteer coordinator lives in another part of the state. Once he called me to say that he wanted to refer me to the other volunteer coordinator that does fundraising and marketing because he thought that since I am a small business owner I'd have skills in that area. I told him no. And then I waited some more.

And then I got the call for the perfect project. The I.T. director for central WA had been delegated to the crappy job of comparing phone plans for all of the centers on our side of the state. To do this, he needed to analyse each bill from each center from 7 different companies. YIKES. He wanted to scan each bill into the computer so he could do his comparison accurately. But, their scanner doesn't scan double sided documents. They would need someone to scan in all of the bills. Enter me!

Now some of you are probably puking at the thought of scanning in both sides of phone bills that stack almost 2 feet high. I scanned 4 bills today that were over 200 pages. I am loving every second of it.

This project doesn't need to be completed until summer. So, I have total flexibility of when I come in to volunteer. Today I had a morning off. I called R at 830 and told him I'd be in by 930. When I got there he had my own little space set up with the laptop that I'm using right by the scanner in the front office. Let me tell you what is so great.

  1. The office is totally quiet. People talk and get along but there is something about the acoustics that make it really soothing. I think that it has something to do with the carpet.
  2. Everyone is SO nice to me. People come up to me and introduce themselves. They tell me thank you. (One of my friends said that they are so grateful because they keep thinking Thank God it's her and not me scanning those suckers). Even on my first day I felt welcome and comfortable. Not awkward or out of place at all.
  3. Everyone there is nice to each other. You know when you walk into an office and you can feel the tension in the staff? This is the opposite. Everyone acts like they want to be there. They smile. They have energy. You would think that since I'm set up in the central part of the back office that I'd overhear some complaints or conflicts. Not so far. Out of the 20 people that I see while I'm there, none of them scowl or frown. It is an amazing feeling to be around them.
  4. They have a staff and volunteer area that is stocked like you wouldn't believe. With pops, juices, cookies, crackers, chips, coffee, tea. And not just one kind of each, but a variety of each. Plus a water cooler and bottled water. I've never seen anything like it.
  5. They build each other up and show their appreciation. When you come in the back there is a huge poster up that says, "Superheros of the 'hood" Someone took the time and printed out images of superheros that were about 3 inches tall of all different styles and lots of color. They then put cut out faces of the staff on the print outs. It is hilarious. They divided it into sections where they used comic book fonts and bubbles to say things like"Provides women with a comfortable environment!" "Continues to educate women about their health!" It is so creative and you can tell that it took a lot of time. I'm so impressed. I think about that poster a lot and would love to do one for my staff at day care.
  6. It gives me an opportunity to experience a non profit. I have worked for small business all of my life. To deal with a huge staff like this is eye opening. And I love what I see. (I know that all n.p. are like this as Chris worked for a n.p. that sucked for years)
  7. They really listened and created a position tailored to my desires. If I was there manning phones, I'd never show. But doing what I like to do makes me want to volunteer every day. I guess when R first found out that he would have to do these comparisons he talked to the volunteer coordinator M. M said, "I have just the person for you." And it was me!
  8. This part of the project is all mine. No one touches the bills or scans while I'm not there. Everything is exactly the way I left it from the time before.

I was starting to panic a bit today because I realized that I only have a few hours left before my part of the project is done. I told R today about what a perfect fit this project was and if he could keep his eyes and ears open for something similar. The forms lady was right behind me. She said, "If you are computer literate I have something for you to do." I'll describe my next project to you once I start it, but I'll tell ya, I'm looking forward to it. I had lunch with my mom and step dad today and they both said that the more I'm there and the more that the staff can see that I work hard and fit in well, they will probably keep me in projects from now on. I hope so.

A couple funny things happened today. One was that Chris was on a new route today and PP was on it. He called my phone and asked if I was volunteering today. I said yes and that I was in the office where he would make his deliveries. And then there he was. I got to see him at work and he got to see what I've been gushing about for weeks. The next thing was that my phone rang and when I answered a lady said, "Hi Karianne, I'm calling about some volunteer opportunities coming up at PP and I'd like to tell you about them." I had to tell her, well, I can't talk now because I'm actually at PP volunteering today.

Whenever I leave I take whatever $ I have in my purse and give it to the clinic techs which keeps my money in the local clinic. Today I gave 8 dollars and you would have thought that I'd given them 800. Like I said they are all so nice!

I feel like I'm totally being genuine now. I'm walking the walk of helping to change the world for the better. It so helps to even out my selfish side. I love it there and I believe that I'm really making a difference in the world. Even though what I do may be a tiny drop in the bucket, I know that it helps overall.

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