I grew up in the stereotypical 70s White suburban home. My dad went to work and my mom worked at home. He was responsible for 100% of the family income and she was 100% responsible for everything else. When people talk about representation in the workplace, girls being able to see women work and then being able to envision that for themselves, my mom is not who they are thinking about. Like many women of her age, she had a limited ceiling. Intelligent and caring, her focus was on being a mom. It reminds me some of the military spouses I have known over the years. Smart, capable women who were often 100% responsible for the everything else in their families and who paused their own dreams and aspirations because quilting together a career from a patchwork of locations is just as hard at it looks.
While she had kids in the house, and she had a houseful for a long time, my mom did the usual mom-volunteer type things: room mother, Cub Scout leader, unofficial stay-at-home mom for the kids on the street. Once she was an empty-nester her volunteering switched into high gear. Friends of the Library, Presbyterian Urban Mission, Meals-on-Wheels, all benefited from her time, dedication and willingness to serve. On many a summer visit you could find my daughters accompanying their grandma on her Meals-on-Wheels route, visiting Mr. January and chatting with others who she grew to know and genuinely care for. This folks, is another kind of representation, seeing how your efforts in the community, even when unpaid, pay off. My kids took a MasterClass in caring for others one summer at a time.
I’ve long said that military spouses are among the most underutilized skill groups. On and around every military base you will find talented spouses with knowledge, advanced degrees and expertise, working outside their chosen profession and interested in making an impact in their communities. Just like my mom, some military spouses find purpose not in a consistent career but in a lifetime of volunteer service. While I worked off and on during my time as a young mom and military spouse, I too spent time as a volunteer. I’ve worked on newsletters for spouses’ groups, volunteered time in my kids’ schools: in classrooms, in school libraries, on PTA boards and in after-school clubs. I’ve run a drama club production of Hamlet with all roles acted by 5th grade girls, created videos for youth sports teams, and helped students make movies based on picture books. I’ve gotten jobs from volunteering and filled gaps in the my career, too.
I’m sure I’m no different from most volunteers in that I tend to volunteer in areas that I have some knowledge or interest. For this challenge, I wanted to talk with my brother, Dave, who volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), in some states, known as a Guardian ad Litem. CASA volunteers are trained to advocate for the best interest of children who have been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers get to know the child and communicate with all parties in the case. They serve as the child’s voice to the court offering neutral, unbiased opinion that focuses on the best interests of the child. Dave has been a part of two cases since he graduated from his 30-hour training in the summer of 2018. I asked him how he got started–saw an article in a coffee shop and was intrigued. We talked about how the abused/neglected child component can be difficult and that sometimes he feels frustrated by the process.
It’s been about 7 years since my last regular volunteer gig. I’ve considered volunteering before but between work and, well, work, I’ve just not found anything that I either wanted to do or thought would be possible schedule-wise. I get emails from VolunteerMatch and normally I give them quick glance and then delete. In January, I saw one that I couldn’t delete. When we lived in Chesapeake, VA, Rachel and Andrew and I volunteered for a rescue group at our local Petsmart, cleaning out litter boxes (me), feeding cats (them) and getting our dose of cat love (all). We had two cats at the time but you can never get enough cat love. Fancy Cats & Dogs Rescue Team was about to get a new volunteer.
The fancy cats I volunteer with are waiting for their forever families at at Chico’s Natural Pet Market in Falls Church, VA. I usually sign up for a morning shift on the weekends that I don’t work. For two-hours I feed, clean up after, play with and fall in love. This is risky business for me. I live in a cat-free house and have since we lost our, Katrina, in 2013. I’m sure Lee is worried every time I volunteer that I will bring someone home with me. I would like to have another cat but, for now, caring for them is enough.
Last month, I met Lucky. He’s a stocky, grey cat new to the adoption center. The note on his enclosure said he needed to socialize and to be mindful of his recently amputated tail, which might be sore. His food from the night before was sat untouched in his bowl. I gave him fresh food and water while he watched me guardedly, pressed back as far as he could get from me. After I’d checked his bedding and cleaned out his litter box, it was time to socialize.
Lucky didn’t look like he wanted to be social, he looked like he wanted to hurt me. I talked softly and offered my hand cautiously as he glared into my eyes. I waited. His body started to move, almost imperceptibly, expanding slowly down the wall like dough rising above the edge of a bowl. He let me touch him and I ran my hand deliberately along his side. Socialization progress. Soon, he slid to the floor and immediately attempted to hide under the row of enclosures along the opposite wall. Too big to fit, his half-tail and round bottom, both shaved completely, were all that was visible. Nervously, I pressed my hands against his sides and pulled, pretty sure if I was successful I was going to need stitches. He gave little resistance and I swept him into my arms, waiting to be mauled. He didn’t struggle, he relaxed. We sat with him on my lap and me falling in love.
Whether Lucky got his name ironically or literally, I do not know but someone will be very lucky to get him. To get adopted someone will need to see that Lucky looks angry but is afraid. His fear is understandable, he probably is angry, too, at how he ended up with half his tail gone, and without a home. If someone can see past his scowling face they will learn that he is a sweet cat who just wants love and affection. Lucky, and his pals Ajax, Katniss, Jasmine (with paired buddy, Jasper) and Peter Pan are still waiting for their forever families to discover them. I’m glad to be volunteering again. It’s good to focus someone other than me. Lucky and Ajax don’t care if my hair is frizzy or I have too much to do at work. For two hours each week, it’s just me and the cats. I help them and they help me.
If you have time to volunteer where do you give your valuable time? What do you like about it? How did you get started? Do your kids volunteer? I loved the teen volunteers that spent their time helping at the library in Jacksonville, NC. We could not have put on such ambitious, after-hours family events at the Onslow County Public Library without them.
Next challenge: (Persuade Your Parents to) Make a Change for the Environment.
Before you go…I found some pictures from the tree planting in honor of my parents. My brother Dave helped dig out the hole. It’s pretty amazing to see how that tree has grown, even through crazy Oklahoma weather of wind, ice, and storms it still stands. It’s pretty awesome to have a physical symbol to remember how they served the organization and the people it cares for.
April 19: Happy birthday, Mom.
My brother, Dave, my niece, Julie, help with the tree planting at Presbyterian Urban Mission, April 24, 2005.
As a kid:
- Lived in Waloomsac, NY; Hoosick Falls, NY and North Bend, NE
- Enjoyed reading/ sports
- Wanted to be a lawyer
Lives in Oklahoma City, OK