Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, September 10, 2004

The Spirit of Volunteerism

So there I was, up until the wee hours of the morning, trying to get the first PTA newsletter of the year done for Em's elementary school. (Who's idea was it again for me to not only redesign the newsletter, but also learn how to use InDesign at the same time when I have a deadline to meet for this thing? Oh, yeah, right. That would be me. And the deadline? Not met. But that's par for this particular course, or at least when I'm playing on it.) Then, this morning, I was venting to Baroy about how difficult finding someone to print it cheaply is becoming, and how I think I'm just going to buy toner and paper and take it to my office and use our printer here and collate, etc., myself and be done with it. And he just became indignant: "You shouldn't have to do all that work," he said. "If they have to pay more to get it published, then they just have to do it. This is ridiculous. And you shouldn't have to be fronting them the money, either. What do they want from you?"

Through this all, I'm just watching him, bemused. When he'd finished, I said, "You're not getting it. This isn't my job, where I can complain about being underpaid and overworked. I'm not paid at all--that's not the point! This is volunteering. The reason I have to do all that isn't because they asked me to, it's because I put my hand up and said, 'Me! Me! I want to do this for you.'"

Baroy looked skeptical. "OK, but they shouldn't be making it more difficult for you. If it costs $500 to publish a newsletter, then they need to give you $500 per newsletter."

"Again, you're missing the point," I said. "It's not that anybody has said to me, 'Oh these bids are too high; we won't pay that.' It's that this is a PTA newsletter, and the money that gets spent on it comes out of a budget that otherwise is doing cool things for the school, and hence for our kids. I'm the one saying I don't want to pay more than $350 tops per month for printing, not the Board. I'm the one saying I don't want to use money that could be better used elsewhere, if there's a reasonable work-around solution. Even if that solution means me putting in long hours by myself."

It's weird. In many ways, Baroy is an extremely generous person. He's well-known among his friends as being a Mac M.D., and is constantly spending hours and hours helping people pick out a new computer, or troubleshooting their printing problems, or whatever. So when Em started in kindergarten and the school's education foundation mentioned that they needed someone to run their once-monthly recycling collection program, I volunteered him. And he's done it ever since--this will be his third year. But he just doesn't get the whole concept of what it means to be a volunteer. He complains constantly about how the janitor doesn't remember to put out the tables the night before, or how the person who promised to buy trash bags forgot--basically, he gets really pissed off about people not doing their 'jobs' to a high enough standard. When, instead, I keep telling him, he should just be grateful for all the kids and parents who do help, and the people who do show up, and just keep his eye on the bottom line, which is making extra money to go toward needed school programs. But like I said, he really doesn't get it. At all. And he knows it.

So when I left this morning, we basically summed up our conversation like this:

"I don't know. I still think you're being taken advantage of."

"Maybe I am, but I volunteered for it."

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