Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Volunteering.

(This post is mainly for the benefit of new readers and followers, as the theme and photos have been seen here before)

I woke up today thinking about the time I was a volunteer in the community. Hoping to stay active, and get to know more people, I decided to be an unpaid volunteer in three different jobs.

The first job I took on was cycle safety training, at the local junior school around the corner. As this was seasonal, I also applied to work for the Fire Service, as a community volunteer. The bulk of this job involved fitting smoke alarms in the houses of elderly or disadvantaged people living in a twenty-mile radius of Dereham. I was given a short training course, issued with a uniform and identity badge, and then took delivery of a small toolkit, as well as a few cases of smoke alarms. I also had to attend a course on how to safely use a step-ladder of just three rungs. πŸ™‚

This service was provided free of charge by The Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, and restricted to people over the age of 65, or with a registered disability. I initially agreed to work for 2-3 days a week, from 8 am until 1 pm, so that I could always be back to take Ollie out. I would receive a list of names and addresses, and make appointments to call on them and fit the smoke alarms. I was issued with a mobile phone to make these calls, and paid a mileage rate to use my own car. Whilst at the houses, I would also carry out a general fire safety check, and give advice to the person living there.

This soon became busier than I expected, with me being asked to make more appointments than I could ever keep up with in the time I had allowed for it. Then I was asked to give talks to community groups too, speaking about fire safety in the home, and the importance of having smoke alarms fitted. If that wasn’t enough, I was also seconded to the school fire safety unit, where we did a dramatised presentation to busloads of local school-children, at specially organised venues. For most of those, I had to play the part of a fireman, in full kit and equipment.

Very soon, I was out of the house most days of the week, and struggling to get back in time for the dog-walking. Despite that, I was constantly asked to do more and more, by people who were being paid a good salary to organise us volunteers, then watching us do what they should have been doing for their salaries. So after more than a year, I gave it up. What had started as a feel-good community experience had rapidly turned into an unpaid, demanding job.

Meanwhile, I was still doing the cycle safety courses at Beetley School. I did get to meet a lot of local people, many of whom I still see around here, and they remember me teaching their kids to ride bikes safely. But this volunteering job also had an unpleasant side. This was in the form of a new regional supervisor, again someone getting well paid to supervise people doing this for free, instead of doing it themselves. She delighted in criticising me at every opportunity, as well as treating the kids as if we were doing them a favour by allowing them onto the course. And most of them were only ten years old, too young to be expected to respond like adults of course.

So not long after quitting the Fire Service job, I parted company with Norfolk Road Safety too.

I reflected on something my Dad had once told me, a hangover from his days as a regular soldier. “Never volunteer”.

But when I heard that Dereham Windmill was looking for volunteer guides, I weakened, and offered my services. I was strict this time though. I told them that I would work one day a week only, and finish at 2 pm. This seemed to suit them, so I received a short instructional course about the windmill, and started the next week. It had recently been refurbished, and opened to the public as an historical building and educational experience. I took some photos of it, when I worked there.


Unfortunately, some of the other volunteers frequently asked me to cover more days, including weekends and special Windmill Events. I stuck to my guns, and only ever worked on Fridays, something that didn’t make me feel very popular. Then they opened a new visitor’s cafe, and wanted everyone to go on a rota of working in there too. I declined, as I didn’t want to be a volunteer in a cafe, when I had joined to work inside the windmill. This made me something of an outsider, the ‘Friday Man’ who wouldn’t do anything else. Then after I had been there for some time, I developed vertigo, and that didn’t suit constant trips up and down stairs that are little more than vertical ladders.

I took some time off, trying to get the condition treated. But I eventually decided I had done enough, and resigned my job there too.

I have no inclination to volunteer again. Although I am glad that I did what I did, and gave a lot back to the local community, I learned that volunteers are often put upon, and always expected to do more than agreed. If you are thinking of volunteering, be careful what you choose to do.

52 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

  1. I myself find that the views on volunteering universal as well. I gave up a lot of my time being on the board of our public library. I enjoyed what I did but found out real quick that I didn’t have the time between raising my family and working full time. It did give me a better insight on my full time job so that was a major plus for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve done (and I’m still doing) some volunteering myself, and I can see the experiences can vary widely. We might get on well with some people but not so much with others, and these days there are lot of demands placed on volunteering agencies (mostly because of cuts to funding and volunteering organisations stepping in). I am wondering about my volunteering with the University of the People. It is very labour intensive, as the classes I teach are large, and although some people don’t interact and provide as much feedback as I do, if I do it, I feel I have to give it my all, and it takes a lot of time (and it also means you have to be at hand and connected pretty much 24/7 for the almost three months the course lasts). I’m enjoying the local radio, though, and most people who volunteer there seem to have been coming for years, so I hope I can keep it going… Thanks, Pete. Yes, I think your warning is quite right.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can imagine that local radio can be very rewarding, as well as interesting. And in the past, it has provided a stepping stone to long careers in that industry too.
      Thanks, Olga. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I recall you had some ‘bed and board’ volunteers over there, helping you build ‘Three Pigs Mansion’. But that’s not the same thing, as they were also learning how to build their own too, and getting to see a (small) bit of Poland. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I particularly like your “Thinking out loud on a Sunday” series. I’m thinking of adding something similar to my deartedandjody letters, perhaps an occasional “Putting some random thoughts to paper (oops, the screen)” Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I felt good about being involved at first, but there was little or no social activity outside of those duties. It could often be very lonely, especially sitting in the windmill. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting insights, Pete. I had considered it when I retire for good but imagined this sort of thing would happen, people taking advantage of your good nature. If I ever do do it, I’ll quote them Pete’s Rule. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, BF. It was sad to see so many people being browbeaten into doing much more than they really wanted to. Some organisations just need to think abut paying people to do some things as a ‘real’ job.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. volunteerism is a noble deed but like you said, you have to be very careful on what you take on.
    i hear quite a bit of ‘been taken advantaged of’ stories and that’s a shame. thanks for the invaluable tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Volunteering is great if you can find the right fit. I volunteer occasionally for four different organizations, but none of them require much time commitment: (1) I mow the lawn at my church once a month. There are other people who do this the rest of the month. (2) I read the newspaper aloud once a week so that those with vision issues can have access to the news. (3) My former school principal where I taught calls me occasionally when there is a special project that they need help with. They know not to call me to be a substitute teacher as I have no interest in working all day. (4) I volunteer for a committee which helps bring twenty-five children’s authors to speak about writing to local elementary schools in our area biennially. Since one of my future goals is to write children’s books, this is a natural fit. I enjoy giving back in retirement, but I try hard not to over commit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That all sounds very sensible, Pete. I did try to volunteer to help slow readers, at the local library. But I was shocked to be turned down for the reason that ‘Older men spending time in the company of young children is not not something we encourage, as it can lead to potentially difficult situations’. My age on the form was enough for them to presume that I was some sort of pervert. Is is any wonder they can’t get enough volunteers?
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. It made me sad, Kim. Especially as I had been given a background check before working with the school kids doing the cycling. The Education people told me that they were looking for reading helpers aged between 16-20, so that the learners could ‘relate’ to them. I told them they would be very lucky to get modern teenagers to give up their time to sit in the library for free.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. My mom volunteers at a thrift shop to support the local animal shelter. She just told me yesterday she will have to quit soon if they don’t stop asking her to do more, cover, pop in for an hour. It began as one day a week and now it’s four days.
    I wonder if I will volunteer when I retire? I doubt it. I will probably substitute teach once a week. Babysitting high schoolers for pay. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My neighbour retired from full-time teaching, and she does substitute teaching a couple of days most weeks. It allows her to pick and choose when and where to work.
      I know what your mum is saying, and why she has had enough. They always want more.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A very interesting story, Pete – Cindy, it will be interesting to see how you choose to monetize your expertise…teaching others and being paid to do so, something that is now such a big topic as teachers are notoriously underpaid in most parts of the US…Pete, your skills have immense value, as evidenced by the need for them, yet its expected that you give that knowledge and experience away for free now…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, John. I didn’t actually want to get paid, as it would change my tax liability, resulting in me losing most of the pay anyway. But I just tired of the constant demands to do more and more.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Pete, here in the US, the longer you put off getting benefits the more you get…which encourages people to continue to work and get paid for their experience rather than giving it away for free…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah, I see. My State Pension was paid from age 65, and would be much the same if I had waited longer. Before that, my work pensions were exempt from tax, as they were not enough to reach the threshold. Since I turned 65, I have hit the tax band, so lose 20% of everything. But I have no interest in working now.
            Best wishes, Pete.

            Like

            1. Yes Pete, enjoy life! In the US, Social Security kicks in as early as 62-1/2 if you meet the requirements, but the amount you receive e goes up if you wait until 66, and hits a peak if you wait until 70, in some case 35% more each year…that’s a rough look at it, but as you see, the longer you wait the more it pays off for you over time…of course, you have to live to 85 to have it really pay off, but who’s in a hurry?

              Liked by 1 person

      2. I head a community service group at school that’s Rotary affiliated. Our students do community and international projects all year long. I feel like I have been “volunteering” for years. Although, I do get a stipend for planting the volunteering seed inside youngsters, so that’s cheating, really.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Your volunteer work is obviously vital to giving young people a sense of responsibility and “giving back” – but as Pete’s original story pointed out, a volunteer’s time can be taken for granted and not respected, which isn’t right in any way

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose they didn’t treat me that badly, (except the cycle lady) as they were often full of praise for what I did. But there was a clear expectation that you would do more hours than agreed, and a definite ‘guilt trip’ if you declined to do so.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It also applies to working part-time. I went half-time for a couple of years before retiring, except for being expected to attend ‘important’ meetings at other times, and going on courses, and covering for others, and just finishing this because it has to be done today: you get the idea. So the same rule applies to part-time. Plus, one big extra, if you work half-time and it involves one or more half-days, always arrange those half-days in afternoons and don’t go in early. Morning half-days end at 3.30.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My wife has been working part-time for over a year now. She contracted for 20 hours a week, yet they always expect her to do extra hours to cover sickness, training, and holidays. So some weeks, she does almost as many hours as the full time staff.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  9. I volunteer at a nursing home once a week to run a small shop for the residents. I also do the shopping once a week. It’s rewarding and I have a lot of funny stories. We’ve also been volunteer host families for exchange students. We’ve had 31 with some staying only six weeks and others staying for a while year. Mostly that’s been great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds both interesting and rewarding, Peggy. In the late 1970s, we used to take in French schoolkids for a few weeks, when they were in London to study the language. Some were just awful house guests, but others have remained lifelong friends.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I see some things are universal….”Never Volunteer”…….My short trip into volunteerism was similar to yours….start slow then everyone wanted me to fill in…..that was short lived……I taught a course at the lo9cal college….that is the only volunteering that work out well….I like my time in the garden and with MoMo so I will keep to myself for now….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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