Volunteer? No Way! (Part II)

Anne Tergesen

I enjoyed the comments my first blog attracted on the subject of volunteering. They have helped me think more clearly about ways in which I can volunteer without sacrificing sleep or time with my kids.

Like my editor, Amy Dunkin, I appreciate Martha Feingold's suggestion to volunteer for activities that will put me "face to face with the kids." Unfortunately, the majority of the requests I receive are for help with projects that would put me face to face with adults only. But there are some events that qualify. Last year, I volunteered to lead a project for the children in my son's nursery school class. We staged a play, based on a children's book called "Abiyoyo." I read the book, while each child acted out his or her part. Then, we sang a Pete Seeger song that comes on a CD with the book and decorated masks depicting the central character. The kids loved it. And I got a glimpse of the classroom dynamics and the personalities of all of the children. My son, who normally hates to perform, was so excited about having me there that he requested the starring role. I'll be on the lookout for other similar opportunities.

I also appreciate the suggestions from Charles Warner and Susan Newman. Susan is the author of "The Book of No," about how to say no diplomatically but effectively. Both point out that it's only polite to respond to requests, if only to just say no. To clarify: The email requests I don't respond to are sent to my older sons' entire grades, each of which numbers about 45 families. My rationale for not responding is that the sender might not want to be innundated with excuses.

Clearly, though, there is a threshold at which not responding is rude. When I receive a request directed at either me alone or at me as part of a small group, I do respond--even if only with regrets. I have no hard and fast rule, but generally, when the group is somewhat intimate, I feel compelled to reply.

Back to volunteerism: I wish I had more time to volunteer. One Thanksgiving, my mother took my sisters and I to a soup kitchen at a church in the Bronx, where we helped serve dinner. It really brought home to me how priviledged I am. I often think that it would be great to involve my sons in similar activities. But between my deadlines, endless housework, Little League, homework, and trips to see grandparents, I have little energy and time to spare. I know that sounds like an excuse, but I am feeling more than a little tapped out these days. Suggestions are welcome!

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