Volunteerism, public speaking, stuttering & animal rescue

22 May

Being a volunteer is something as American as apple pie.  In general, people are expected to volunteer doing SOMETHING at some point in their lives, and the range of possibilities is immense.  Today is one of the days when I am a volunteer.  I’m nursing a shoulder injury, which has turned out to be surprisingly long term AND painful, but one thing I do well doesn’t require me to pick up a thing–I’m good at running my mouth.  For anyone who has heard one of my radio programs, that’s no news flash.  Since most people suffer from a fear of public speaking, I’m tapped often as an MC because of my lack of fear about the process.

In a way, it amuses me.  I am one of the shyest, most reticent people imaginable.  I don’t like talking to strangers, in person or on the phone.  I can be entirely quiet for a whole day, and I’ve not even THOUGHT about giving anyone the silent treatment, but just didn’t have anything to say.  I also was a stutterer as a teenager.

All of those statements are met with disbelief from people who know me.  They can’t see it as possible, but in reality it is.  Why does public speaking not bother me?  Well, if one person scares you to death, 20 or 200 is no different.  You are already used to being terrified while talking, after all!  In addition, as a teenager in high school, I participated in speech & drama productions and competitions, partly to eliminate the stutter.  I’ve learned how to work around it, and seldom do I get stuck on a word these days.  I actually think this is partly because I have learned to recognize the early signs of “getting stuck” and have learned to rapidly substitute another word and avoid the stutter entirely with the detour.

Setting that aside, I’m not an MC with a steady stream of jokes.  I never have perfected the solo art of stand up comedy, and so I haven’t tried amusing the audience with my witty remarks.  I’m afraid I’d blatantly illustrate my utter lack of ability to tell a joke or relay a one liner.  It’s okay though, I’m a bit more friendly and serious rather than witty and charming.

Today, I’ll be the MC for an animal rescue group that I am normally much more involved in preparing for their fundraisers.  Their fall event, I was the event coordinator, which had me working (along with Greg & anyone I could talk into helping) way into the wee hours to finish some things for the event.  It taught me a lot about fund raising, perhaps more than I really wanted to know.  I’ll likely do it again-it wasn’t an unpleasant experience at all, just most recently, I have been more focused on my personal issues and dealing with the injury.  It does seem very strange to be getting ready to go, and going straight to the venue where it will be held rather than being involved in setting it up and dealing with last minute problems.  I don’t know very much about this event at all, other than the main prizes and that it is a fashion show for dogs.  I also know that we’re supposed to have unbearably hot temperatures today, and its being held outside.  I’m thrilled. (NOT!) I am seriously concerned that the temperatures and location are going to join forces against the event’s success, and since its a group with very noble ideals (100% no kill animal rescue, and they really mean it!) I want it to be a success.

Certain things are critical to an event’s success-planning, location, date and advertisement.  Without those four items, I don’t care who its for, what they are giving away as enticement, or who the celebrities are…success is dubious without them.  Good venues book up months (or longer) in advance.  Your second choice may be a very poor choice, and it may have been a better choice to choose a different date rather than a different location.

It takes months advance notice to get through everything, and there is a LOT to do.  Newspapers, radios, and television stations all need lead time before the event, and in some cases, its 90 days or more.  Potential donors of goods and services, whether for the event itself or as prizes for the event, must be contacted months in advance, and often requires a lot of follow up, which may include forms to fill out as well.  Storage for donated items is needed before the event, and then transportation to the venue will be needed.  Items must be prepared for display, baskets must be arranged, tickets printed & sold, and a million details have to be planned out.

The tough part comes with getting volunteers to work at the event as well as before the event, especially for relatively young groups without a core volunteer group that can be counted on.  In addition, there are a lot of the “prima donna” volunteers who show up a few minutes before the event is to start, their attitudes well inflated as they begin to point out what a poor job everyone has done prior to their arrival.  Overtired from late nights doing that preparation, frazzled nerves from misplaced items at the event itself, the long list of no shows for various volunteers, and then being informed of the poor job you have done by someone who couldn’t make it to any of the working evenings is not going to enhance your mood or ability to cope.  I assure you, while THINKING about strangulation of such a person is not against the law, you can’t actually do it.  My personal remedy?  Smile with your teeth gritted, spot something that needs done on the far side of the venue, grab a cold bottle of water, and put space between you and the cause of the latest disturbance in your personal tranquility.  Half a bottle of water later, you’ll have answered at least a dozen questions, and you’ll know to give the prima donnas a wide berth as you go about creating order.  A mental note to not have them back as a volunteer may be made, but the reality is, organizations are often so starved for warm bodies that they can’t afford to refuse one.

Now the other kind of volunteer is a true treasure.  They come when they are asked, and they ask what they can do to help.  They pitch in.  They smile and joke, with  you and with people attending.  They help with the glamor-less tasks that are done before anyone sees anything, like filling gift bags and making signs.   They are focused on having fun and shrug over the minor glitches that inevitably occur, focusing on the things that go right.  They are happy and pleasant, and they make everyone around them smile instead of searching for an escape route.  These are the volunteers that are better than gold, and I bend over backwards to show my appreciation for them and their efforts.

With that said, find an organization that does something you believe in, whether its Habitat for Humanity, your church, animal rescue, senior citizens, your local library, or a town’s sports program.  Get involved, find out how you can help, and don’t be a prima donna volunteer, be a golden one!  Often, you can help even from home, with soliciting donations, selling tickets, working on websites, preparing press releases, calling media, arranging details, etc.

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