Volunteering

There are lots of reasons to volunteer, but for me the most important are:

  1. Getting to know nice people with the potential to form new friendships
  2. Learning new subject matter or a new skill
  3. Making a difference in people’s lives
  4. Giving back, that is, doing my share

I have done quite a bit of volunteering in the past few years – as secretary of the quilt guild, secretary of my homeowners association, instructor of an OLLI class, literacy volunteer, and tax preparer.  The reality of my volunteer experiences has included items 2-4, above, but there never seems to be an opportunity to get to know the other volunteers and to have social relationships.

By and large, my volunteer experiences have been responsible, unpaid work.  I have changed my expectations to focus on satisfaction gained from learning a new skill and knowing that the volunteer effort is helping people.  Because these experiences feel like work, I have decided to only make short-term commitments and to live in and enjoy the moment as much as I can.

The Best ways to learn…

When you have been responsibly employed for decades, you are accustomed to thinking of yourself as competent.  So learning something new can be unsettling, because for a period of time you are less than competent.  In the past few months I have been challenged to learn – and then implement – new skills.  It has been stressful, but I am on the road to new competencies.

For me, the best way to learn is either by doing or by teaching.

Experiential learning is an established approach that I put into practice when I became a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) volunteer through Community Action.  I spent two days in class, and another 20 hours in practice lab and study.  Then I passed the Basic certification exam with 100-percent correct on the first try.  It felt good!  I had to wait more than a month until it was time to begin volunteering.  My first day as a tax preparer was an anxious one, but I happily discovered that I was knowledgeable and that I could do it.  My second day was easier, and with each new client I reinforced my skills and increased my confidence.  I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to learn to prepare taxes – and then do it as a volunteer, but I find the work to be oddly satisfying.  (Interestingly, after nearly 40 hours of education I am still not qualified to prepare my own taxes, which are complex enough to require Advanced certification.)

While in graduate school, I worked as a Teaching Assistant.  The title is misleading as TAs were entirely responsible for the classes they taught.  We prepared the syllabi and assignments, gave the lectures, led the critiques, and determined the grades.  That is a lot of responsibility.  One of my professor-mentors told me, “The best way to learn is to teach.”  I found that to be true back then, and it continues to be true today.  I have been using Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Outlook) for decades.  Ten years ago I taught free two-hour applications workshops at my public library.  That was easy.  Last fall I started teaching day-long Microsoft application workshops for the local community college.  I feel a greater responsibility for these classes, in part because students pay to take them.  Furthermore, instead of two-hour basic classes, I teach seven-hour workshops at the basic, intermediate, and advanced level.  To do that successfully, I cannot just “wing it.”  I need to be very prepared, and still remain flexible.  I need to study and practice so I can present the information with ease and in an organized manner.  Not surprising, my preparation for teaching the classes has dramatically increased my knowledge of the software – well beyond the skills I had acquired by using it for many years.

So, study followed by doing is a very good way to learn.  Doing followed by study and teaching is equally worthwhile.

Lesson learned!!!

How many thumb drives do you carry around in your pocket or purse?  Turns out, that I carry six!  Three are backups for Microsoft application classes I teach.  If they get lost it would be inconvenient, but only that.  The other three are essentially duplicates and include all of my current activities – ranging from minutes of Homeowners Association meetings (as I am the secretary) to recipes and quilt patterns to an Excel version of my check register and fund balances to MY PASSWORDS!

Every time I opened my wallet I registered that the latest duplicate thumb drive was there, although I felt a little uneasy because it was a bit bulky for its location.  I briefly thought that I should at least put it on a cord and attached it to a clip in my purse.  But I didn’t act on that thought.

Guess what happened?  When I checked my wallet for receipts, I noticed that the duplicate thumb drive, which usually shared space with my paper money, was gone!  First I thought it had fallen out of the wallet and into my purse.  So I turned the purse upside down and shook it, and then methodically went through all the pockets and compartments several times.  It was nowhere to be found.

Adrenaline rush!

Next I retraced my steps, going back to the three neighborhood merchants I had visited this week.  And I called the fabric store I had visited earlier in the day.  No luck.

I was ready to give up hope.  Only one more place it could be.  The grocery store I had stopped at on my way home.  Imagine my relief when – after waiting on hold for a few minutes – the customer service person came back on the line and recited the text that was imprinted on a green thumb drive found at checkout.  It was mine!

Lesson learned:  Carry only the thumb drives you need today.  Carry them securely – on a cord that is attached to your bag or wallet.  And absolutely never carry a thumb drive that contains information you want to keep private.  No passwords.  No financial information.

Thankfully, my scary experience ended well.  I cannot expect to be that lucky again.  From this point onward, I routinely carry NO thumb drives.