Friday, December 3, 2010

The Involuntary Volunteer

A few days ago, I received an anxious call from a close acquaintance. "Are you going to be helping out at the special lunch at the high school on Wednesday?". Her son is my son's classmate.
We had all received  a printed letter on the school letterhead (??? whatever happened to emails and preserving the trees?) requesting assistance with supplying food items ('preferably reflecting your culture and ethnicity') for some student event. I pondered it briefly before deciding that no, I did not want to send food to be wasted or just eaten by the teachers in charge (as had happened some years back when I had meticulously made idlis and sambar for some similar event in the middle school.) Or horror of horrors, had to remake items for some bake sale because what I had dropped off originally was nowhere to be found.
So I told her, "No, I have no plans to be there." She launched into a long story about how she had been co-opted into helping out, only to realize belatedly that she had other commitments that day. She was hoping that I could take her place at the 1:00pm event.
Oh bliss and schadenfreude, as I uttered the words "Sorry, I work outside of home and don't get back till late afternoon. Plus, I do have an important meeting that day, so can't take the day off or work from home."
Our conversation didn't last long after that.
Today, as though reading my mind, this article highlighted similar decisions by numerous 'involuntary volunteers' who are now backing off from their school volunteering commitments and restoring a semblance of balance to their harried lives.
I still volunteer, but on my terms and my choice of time. I have it relatively easy, having chosen the internet communications task, which can be done from the comfort of my home. I may not be able to schmooze with the bigwigs at the PTA since it is a  low profile task, but I have the consolation of knowing that while other committee officials come and go, my committee lives on ....well, not forever, but at least till my younger kid leaves for college.


kochuthresiamma p .j said...

parent involvement - can be quite harrowing, eh? dont think things are this demanding out here in india.

Sujatha said...

In India, the required level of parental involvement is sky-high for academic support. I still hear tales of "Have to sit with my kid while they do their homework, drive them back and forth to tuition classes after school, provide them with tea, coffee, snacks to help them cram their way through exams." The overall feeling is that since they are focused on their kids' future well-being, it is not something to resent or put on the back burner.
Here, in the U.S. the focus broadens to "What can you do to contribute to the overall community? Plan and provision parties and other activities for the kids, fund fancy electronic whiteboards and iMacs for every classroom, etc. etc. There is more of a sense of "What I do, is for the good of the larger student body." rather than solely focused on your kid alone. In a way, it is an introduction to the power of community service to pull a whole school ahead, rather than just one's own kids.
I might gripe about it, but I would never trade away the chance to influence the larger group, despite the small pettinesses that one might encounter in any similarly-scaled organization.