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October 15, 2009


My first “job” as a teenager was as a volunteer at a nursing home when I was 14-years old.  My mother didn’t want me lying around the house all summer and since I was too young to work a paying gig, she shipped me off to the nursing home (not literally, of course – I didn’t live there).  I had never known anyone who volunteered their time – not even my mother volunteered as an adult – and the whole concept seemed foreign to me.  I can’t say that I enjoyed my experience immensely:  it was always hot inside and it smelled like soup, but I definitely learned about having an outside responsibility.

I volunteered at a different nursing home the next summer – one that was a 15 mile bike ride away from my home – as well as at the hospital at which my mother worked.  I made some new friends and hopefully helped a couple of people, and even learned how to alphabetize patient files!

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I came to truly appreciate the experience of volunteering.  I started to understand that it wasn’t just something my mother made me do to keep me out of trouble: it was to help me learn the value of helping others for no monetary reward as well as to amass new skills and make connections.  I have continued to volunteer my time as an adult and I know that is in large part thanks to my early experience.

My last volunteer gig (not counting my efforts in the 2008 elections for the Obama campaign and as an election judge) was as a monitor at an organization that provided supervised visitation and exchange services.  For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, family courts often order parents who have split up to utilize supervised visitation or exchange services for their children when there have been allegations of abuse, chemical dependency, or other aggravating issues in the family.  The non-custodial parent must either visit their child under the watchful eyes of a monitor who takes notes during the session, or the parent is allowed to pick up the child at the facility for an off-site visit.  At no time do both parents see or have contact with one another.

You can imagine the drama that ensued.  Parents showed up to pick up their kids with no child safety seat for the car.  Parents showed up drunk (we had a Breathalyzer on site).  Parents had no idea how to change their child’s diaper.  Parents asked me out on dates.  Parents brought food their child was allergic to for lunch.  Parents asked their child who the other parent was now dating.  Parents had no idea how to interact or play with their child.  Every day their was some new calamity.  It was a lot of fun and we were providing a useful service.

I learned so much during my 2-year stint supervising visits and exchanges.  I learned that you have to be really careful about with whom you choose to have a child (one set of parents had a child after a one night stand.  They were tragic.).  I learned that parenting is not an innate skill.  I learned the myriad ways adults who at one time had affection for one another can come to endeavor to hurt and punish one another.  I learned that children love their parents no matter what bad things they may have done.  I learned the importance of having such a service when no other option is available.

I haven’t had a regular volunteer assignment in a couple of years and am itching to find something new to do.  I am on a list to receive training in providing mediation services and I’ve always wanted to teach literacy skills.  I strongly believe in the importance of volunteering.  Many of us believe we don’t have time, but most of us could find a couple of hours a month if we really tried.  There are lots of things my mother made me do as a child of which I didn’t recognize the value until I grew up.  Volunteering is one of them, and I will forever be grateful.

P.S.  That photo above is of me and Bob Lanier.  I escorted the team members of the Milwaukee Bucks when they came to the hospital for their physicals.  I remember he had bad breath.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009 6:13 pm

    So, is that where you met your husband? (The visitation center, not the nursing home!)

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 15, 2009 11:47 pm

      Why, yes, Babito’s Dad! He kept asking me out and after I decided to drop the protection order against him and the stalking charges were dismissed, I decided he and his 9 kids were the ones for me!

  2. carrieb permalink
    October 16, 2009 8:13 pm

    Amazing the things our parents made us do that (we disliked at the time) have paid off in adulthood. Great post!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 16, 2009 9:21 pm

      I know! My mother my mother even making me READ! Thank you, Carrie!

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