Wednesday, October 27, 2010

23 Volunteers and Counting

October was another jam-packed month at Palo Alto High School. Finally I came to terms with the truth that the older I get, the less I am able to juggle and the sooner I run out of energy; it was time to sincerely ask for help. The volunteer coordinators at our College and Career Center graciously agreed to issue a plea at the Fall training meeting to see if a few parents would be willing to help with our "Get Involved" student community service program and our "Excellence" Career Month Speaker Series. I made a simple breakdown of tasks and took names and numbers at the back of the room. Thirteen asked to help with community service, and another five with Career Month. Combined with last year's returning volunteers, that brought my team to twenty-three active and engaged parents who were willing to take on the school year's activities.

After working at such a manic pace last year, I hesitated to even get started with these willing souls, but just over a month later I could attest that volunteers are some of the most productive and capable people around. It doesn't hurt that we are in the heart of Silicon Valley
and across the street from Stanford University--there is an aspect talent and education here. But I have seen the same mentality in Salt Lake City, Utah where I was one of 23,000 registered Winter Olympics volunteers in 2002. No matter what the occasion, give a volunteer his or her choice of jobs and they will astound you. We divided up the workload into categories: events, marketing, bookkeeping, database management. When volunteers sign up for jobs they enjoy, their contributions are high-quality and far beyond minimum expectations. I've learned over the years not to ask a meticulous person to manage the big picture or an entire event, and vice versa. We are all happiest when doing what we enjoy, where we have an aptitude and some level of interest.

This is the concept we are trying to instill in our students in the service-learning program at Paly. When you take on a project, volunteer in a specific area where you are actually interested; don't just show up to get credit for time served. Interest-specific volunteering produces meaningful, high-quality results for both the volunteer and the organization served. This can lead to increased self-esteem, finding a sense of purpose in one's work, and discovering or exploring talents and passions. The Do Something survey ( substantiates the fact that high school students are better off developing creative projects on their own, or dedicating their service to just one meaningful cause, than various disjointed projects with no personal relevance to the volunteer.

With parents devoting their energy in their personal areas of strength to benefit students, I hope our young people will be similarly inspired to give of their time in a way that adds purpose and meaning to their lives. We are all better assets to the community when we get involved in projects that inspire personal growth. I am thankful for twenty-three volunteers and counting!