Things I Have Learned as a Volunteer

To say this year was full of highs and lows is an understatement. My heart has soared and it’s had a bit of heartbreak. I could’ve fill many pages about both, but this post will serve only to cover the things I’ve learned from volunteering for a youth sports organization.

I wish I could say there were equally positive experiences and benefits from donating my time, but there weren’t. Frankly, I met a few cool people and had some fun, but if I had to sum it up; it mostly was a soul sucking experience.

Here is the list I wrote in just a few minutes, right after sending in my resignation letter. So here we go…

  • People with the loudest voice, often put in the least effort.
  • No one gets to decide what level of expectations I should have, but me.
  • People with a pack mentality, often have more support because people want to be “in the club.”
  • Often the pack mentality will turn sour and eventually turn people away.
  • Don’t ever take a board position (even if you can offer them lots of help) if you are not a politician.
  • I am not a politician.
  • No amount of effort will appease everyone. Yes, you could quit your job and be at everyone’s beck and call, but someone will always have an issue about something.
  • Those who are not in the arena don’t get to pass judgement. They can and will, but you shouldn’t care.
  • I care to freaking much.
  • I put everything I’ve got into my commitments.
  • People won’t always be grateful or even know what’s being done behind the scenes.
  • It’s easy to know it all from the sidelines.
  • Big mouths that are approached with a “put up or shut up” option will suddenly get nervous or disappear.
  • Most people will always take the easy way out.
  • They will also do only what benefits themselves.
  • Some people will forget that this is about the kids. Not about position or power.
  • I’m confident every choice and decision I’ve made was in the best interest of the league (even if it didn’t benefit me personally or often even my kids sadly).
  • I shouldn’t let this sour my outlook and attitude on volunteering.
  • It has and I’m going to need to work through that.
  • I should only volunteer in ways that fill my bucket.

Please don’t let this sway your decisions about volunteering. Not all organizations or people are the same. This was just my experience at this point in time. It’s too soon to tell if I’ll ever put myself in a position like that again, but having this list will serve as a reminder to make better choices and to put my energy toward things that really matter.

Odd Girl Out

Note: It’s been a terribly long time since I’ve last written. Life has been crazy. It’s been awesome and not, as life tends to be. When I took a peek in the draft folder, I came across this post. Part 1 is that post. Part 2 was written after.


Part 1: Draft dated 6/13/16

So, I have this book that’s been super hard for me to read. It’s called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and it stirs up a whole lotta something in me. I mean I guess it’s good as it brings awareness to how girls and women treat each other, but frankly, it pisses me off. It’s the proverbial light going off, “AH! See? I knew it!” That’s what it’s like for me.

It’s my suspicions being confirmed.

While I know some are quite gifted in passive-aggressiveness and just plain meanness played off as “what do you mean? I didn’t say that.” (If you excuse my language, it’s what I call a mindf*ck. Because there’s just no other way to explain it.) I do believe, in some few cases, the manipulation and game playing is built into their DNA and they have no clue. Then again, I suppose you could be brought up or trained this way…

I find that sometimes I’m anticipating malicious girl behavior when there isn’t any. Then after I beat myself up about thinking that way. This is what it’s like to be programmed to think and feel a certain way. After our move, I have so much clarity about this because we have no ties here. No history to draw from. Sure, it still happens but it doesn’t cut as deep.


Part 2: Last night.

Fast forward a few years and here I sit very involved in the community in one form or another. And I’m not sure I like it. I have things to offer and I’m willing to do the things others won’t, but it amazes me how one act can be misinterpreted and snowballed. Real friends ask questions. You know, talk it out. Fake friends belittle you behind your back and feed the fire. Then it spreads. (Ever have a good relationship with someone and then suddenly it becomes awkward? It doesn’t take long to figure out there’s been some mudslinging going on and now their perception of you has changed based on someone else’s misinterpreted story. Fuel, fuel, fuel.)

They say history repeats itself and the signs were there all along. I chose to ignore them because they felt like “my people.” I have learned that is so not the case. When you’re new to an area, there are lots of differences – mannerisms, how people behave, even “tag sale” vs. “yard sale” it’s all different. So you make allowances. What seems rude at first glance might not be in “their language,” so you choose to ignore it. Then time proves those gut reactions were right.

Truth? It is disappointing. Truth? Turns out, I don’t want to be surrounded with people like that anyway. Truth? I have things to offer, but it is not the best use of my time dealing with drama and with people like this. If I am giving up time with my family, my real friends and my business, I am not half-assing it. I am all-in and doing what I can to make whatever it is better than it was before. I make the investment and throw myself into the task at hand. At what point is it just not worth it?

Team Name: For the Fallen

IMG_9665Today my kids experienced their first ever 5k (on their own two feet, at least). I’d like to say it was a rockin’ experience, but no. It was quite miserable.

We didn’t want to set the bar too high, so our goal was merely to see how it goes and hopefully we can finish. 

In true New England fashion, it snowed – not a ton, but enough to worry about freezing fingers and toes. We took the risk and drove the 1h 15mins hoping the roads wouldn’t be too bad. And since we were walking, we layered up and topped it all off with snowsuits and boots.

The turnout was good. About 3,500 participants. We made it halfway without being too tired or miserable, and we peeled some layers since the kids were hot. At this point, we still had some people behind us, but we were losing ground and the people manning the water table were supportive and cheered us on. One kind man walked with us for a bit encouraging the kids, as I’m sure he could tell their spirits were low.

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Marching along with his “soldier backpack.”
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Before the race, loving the snow.

As we neared mile 2, we were well behind the pack (read: last) and a woman had joined us and said she was thankful for the company, so she wasn’t alone. In front of us we could see the next group of race staff, which indicates a turning point, but with no one in front of us we didn’t know what that turn was.

As luck would have it, that staff abandoned their post before we got there and the ever so helpful sign (you know, the one with the ARROW) directed us right. Yeah. It should have been a LEFT. (Thinking back, they probably pulled it out and moved it, but we had no way of knowing that then. Also, some bibs had a map on the back – you think any one of ours did? Nah. Too easy.)

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Almost there.

The experience of seeing the Mile 2 marker a second time was awesome. 

So, we had three miles under our belt and one more to go. We actually had a guy drive up and start removing the race signs in front of us. I asked him to please not remove the further ones since we were still part of the race, wanted to finish and we didn’t want to get lost again. He told us where we needed to go (now that we figured that part out) and carried on.

By this time, the kids were mis-er-a-ble. My daughter was holding up ok, but my son had already been in tears and sat on the wet ground in defeat. He said he was never doing this again. How do you tell a kid he walked a mile further than he had to?

The final mile was something spectacular. There was so much hard, and whizzing traffic, and lots (and lots) of slow walking. This was not the time to be ticked off or complain. This was a time for support, encouragement and a little nudging.

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Finish line.

It was also the PERFECT opportunity to talk about soldiers, their families and what kind of sacrifice they make. The pain they walk through daily and how this walk is just a small fraction of what they experience. 

With the end in sight (the finish line already dismantled), our crew soldiered on. We crossed that imaginary line and followed up with an ice cream to celebrate.

Afterward, I asked them if they were proud of their accomplishments, how they walked every bit of that race, and went even further than the rest who had signed up that day. There wasn’t excitement, but a simple “yeah, I guess.” It was a small glimmer of hope … that was confirmed later with the two of them singing the National Anthem in the backseat and my son walking around the rest of the day – wearing his race shirt with pride.

Before the race. And how we felt after too. (Thanks to the teammate who took it!)
Before the race. This is also how we felt after we got home. (Thanks to the teammate who took it!)

 

Update 4/6/16: I usually keep posts like this to a minimum and I never include who I’m talking about. It merely serves as a take away point and we look to the positive of the day. In this case, I wrote a message on the Run for the Troops 5k FB page and I was told it would be forwarded to the organizers. No response. So I sent a detailed email to the director about some of the things we went through in hopes that it doesn’t happen to anyone else:

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And he responded, “So sorry about your experience , I hope you return someday Bill Pennington”

Really? A potential safety issue, a nightmare of a day, and that’s it? Also, I tried approaching them civilly on social media and it was deleted. Fuel to the fire.

Folks, this is not how you handle customer complaints.

A basic customer service response should be, “I’m so sorry for your experience. Please trust we are handling the issue to ensure that doesn’t happen again. We hope you will join us again next year.” Seriously, even just “Please trust we are handling the issue to ensure that doesn’t happen again.” part would have been fine by me.

All I have to say is we will continue to support our troops, but Run for the Troops 5K in Andover, MA will not get any of my donations or rallying up teams or participants for them anymore. I truly hope the soldier we intended to support gets the support he needs.