Volunteer activities have been central to my personal and professional development, and I want to share my thoughts on the benefits I’ve derived from those experiences.
My self-serving tone is deliberate: I have benefited from my volunteer activities, and I make no attempt to hide that fact. Others have benefited, too, but the rewards to me were real and immediate.
Also, I do not claim to do an extraordinary or exemplary amount of volunteering. I was pretty well booked from about 1995-2005, and have tapered off considerably since then. You all know of others who are constantly devoting themselves to worthy causes.
Volunteer leadership is where you learn to exercise “soft power,” the power of persuasion and motivation, because you generally can’t hire or fire volunteers. (I did “fire” a volunteer once, but that’s another story.) If I had my way, every young professional would be required to develop soft power skills before they get any supervisory or budgetary authority, the civilian tools of “hard power.”
Some of my volunteering has been “charitable” in the sense that I gave of myself for another person’s benefit, but most of it has fallen in the category of “mutual benefit.” I devoted time without direct compensation to something from which I shared in the benefits.
In this regard, I view volunteering as an essential component of citizenship.
At times, I fear that we as a people have become too consumer-minded, viewing important life choices as simply a selection from options presented by others. Citizen volunteering asserts that we have the freedom and power to shape our experiences affirmatively, but only if we commit to working with others and accepting compromises.
SWEAT AND TEARS
I credit my start in volunteering to the US Jaycees, an organization devoted to developing leadership qualities in young people. My Jaycee chapters were social clubs that did service projects, but they introduced me to how much fun service could be.
As with many volunteers, my most challenging and rewarding experiences were related to my role as a parent. I served as the chairman of a school board nominating committee through three election cycles, and for four years as the president of a local youth baseball association. Experienced volunteers will detect the potential for contentiousness in those two endeavors, and my talents and patience were taxed to the utmost. My most vivid memories, however, are of the many people who responded enthusiastically and constructively on behalf of our children and community.
Experienced volunteers will also not be surprised to learn that some of the more impressive-looking volunteer activities on my resume did not require the commitment and energy of the more lowly-looking ones. I am pleased and honored to serve on some boards and committees, but I feel a little sheepish offering opinions when I know the real work is accomplished through commitment, sweat, and, sometimes, a few tears.
Make that commitment. Give that sweat. Cry those tears. You, and someone else, will be better for it.
MY VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES
- Volunteer Tutor, Howard Area Community Center, 2019 to present
- Member, Nesset Family Medical Patient Advisory Council, 2017 to present
- Member, Publications Committee, CPCU Society, 2013-present
- Member, Citizens Advisory Board, Pace suburban bus service, 2007-15
- President, Chicago-West Suburban Chapter, CPCU Society, 2008-09
- Homework tutor, Children’s Home and Aid, 2008-09
- President, Maine East High School Athletic Boosters, 2006-07
- President, Morton Grove Baseball Association, 2001-05
- Co-Chairman, East Maine Dist. 63 Referendum Committee, 2004
- Co-President, Maine East High School Fine Arts Boosters, 2003-04
- Chairman, East Maine Township General Caucus, 1997-2001
- Coach in youth baseball, basketball, and soccer, 1995-2003
- President, Glenview, Ill. Jaycees, 1985-86
- Board member, Stratford, Conn. Jaycees, 1983-84