Sunday, August 25, 2013

Volunteerism: it takes some critical mass from an individual to work

In “retirement” I do get lots of “unsolicited” appeals for “volunteerism”, which includes some relatively low wage job “offers” with apparent social impact.

I do, as part of managing an estate, make certain regular contributions monthly to certain groups, some of which came from my late mother’s interests, to which I have added my own.
But it is typically very difficult to respond to specific appeals for specific causes that keep coming all the time.

Back in the 1990’s I had some volunteer experience with AIDS related and social organization. I don’t need to “name names” or get into detail to make my point.  While some of it worked out well, in a couple of cases I got feedback that “interim” or “bench player” volunteering wasn’t working out because I wasn’t “with it” on what various people (more within the organizations than the clients) “needed”.  True, I’m not a joiner.

On the other hand, my volunteer effort with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas in the 1980s was successful (I was a “baby buddy”) even if a bit on own terms.  There was a real crisis then, with serious personal and political, as well as maybe clinical, implications.  Real friends and loved ones were dying, and the community itself could be “shut down” if the “right wing” had its way.  In my own mind, there was enough critical mass for me to allocate a lot of time and effort to it.
Later, the same was true of the “gays in the military” issue but I became more of an individual operator and “journalist”, a trend which would expand to other issues up to this day.

But not every issue works out this way.  I have not personally experienced the gay marriage issue this way, even though I understand how others do.

I can go back in history, before AIDS, to about 1980, when there was a small “Cuban refugee crisis” which got a lot of publicity in Dallas.  The gay community believed that many Castro refugees were gay, and pushed the idea of recruiting volunteers, especially people who could board refugees in their homes.  I checked into this and found that what they really needed was people who could spend most of their time with the refugees, which wasn’t possible for people with ordinary jobs.  The Catholic Charities in Dallas tried to get active, and then announced it excluded gays from volunteering.  The gay angle did not play out, but the national security issues did.  A lot of refugees then were reported as getting into trouble with the law, something a lot of “volunteers” would not be able to handle.

A few weeks ago, I got a land line phone call from Save the Children, one of the charities handled by the “estate”.  The caller described a sponsorship opportunity whereby apparently an individual child would benefit from a particular donor.  I recall this from the past, and in the 1970’s had participated.  The caller talked about the idea of getting other people to join.  I did cut her off a bit, as she said she could send a package.  That package never arrived.  But I got another call asking to confirm that I had “volunteered” for this.  I hadn’t.  I said, send the package.  It never came.  My feeling about something like this is, now, is like this:  If “you” (French impersonal) correspond with a specific child and develop an attachment, you should be prepared for a real relationship, including long term support, and possible visitation to a non-democratic or dangerous third-world country.  It takes “commitment” and “courage”, not just conscience money or “feel goodism”.  Maybe you should be prepared for the possibility of becoming an adoptive parent.

NBC Washington (NBC4) runs a series called “Wednesday’s Child” that could raise some of the same questions in a domestic context.

Some countries, especially Russia right now (indirectly over the gay issue) resist the idea that people in “richer” countries should adopt some of their disadvantaged children – after all, they want to retain population.  Yet, it seems that the need to find adoptive parents after international crises could explode suddenly, as with Syria, and become a sudden public issue and raise new moral questions for everybody who might be capable of acting.  The same could be true if a horrible catastrophe affected a major part of the U.S.  (Katrina might have come close; imagine a huge power grid disaster, tsunami, nuclear attacks, etc.)
Or what could become more needed is regular “radical hospitality”, readiness to house people, looking all the way back to the Cuban Refugee issue of 1980, which did fizzle out.
Volunteerism today is often very bureaucratic.  A museum in Washington, when I visited it, approached me about volunteering once a week.  I looked at the website and it wanted a formal application, and references.  I’m not about to put on a suit or uniform to join anyone’s agenda or play anyone’s role at age 70. 

And hit-or-miss “standby” volunteerism, like delivery or giving people rides in less “safe” neighborhoods can entail certain risks, including the ability to protect a client if someone dangerous is encountered. 

I have a lot of work to do right now, as I have outlined in recent posts.  But I need to get through this, so I can be ready for this. 

Music and chess can be places too start.  I can see the good, for example, in directing chess tournaments inviting underprivileged teens, but I need to be more competitive in the game myself, at least to the point of being able to play .500 ball in USCF-rated chess again.  I’ve added a lot to my plate since I was that competitive in the past.  

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