We just got done with VBS at our church. Thank you for your condolences. For those of you less churchy church people VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. Also, it could stand for, “free baby sitting service for parents who CANNOT be cooped up with their children for one more hot second without going completely postal.” It’s all a matter of nuance really.
So, there are those lucky parents who get to drop off their spawn and enjoy the kid free morning, and then there are idiots like me. My children love VBS. I love VBS. I went to a church once, that did VBS at night, which would have been even MORE fun for the nonparticipating parents. Date night every night for a week. So awesome. I got home at like 10:00 every night that week after telling Bible stories to the children of those lucky people.
Volunteering wherever their children are spending their time is a favored practice of over-protective, possibly micromanaging parents for generations. A time honored tradition. I observe it very well. Apparently this year was a super good year for my volunteering chops because the Preschool Department Co Leader asked me to write a book on how to be a volunteer when the week was over. Nice. I gave myself five stars for this round. Unfortunately for other people I’ve worked with over the years, I have not always been fabulous at this. Also, who in their right mind would read an entire book on volunteering? So, here, I wrote a blog post instead. Here are my do’s and don’ts, most of them learned painfully through years of volunteer work. You can use these in any job you’re working, but I’ll use the context of VBS.
- Since you are presumably working for a good cause, be happy about it. Your attitude seeps into everyone around you, whether it is good or bad. I worked a VBS one year with volunteers who were so moody, upset and disgruntled that I felt I had to put THEM back together every morning before the kids got there. As a boon to me and all other positive attituded people, please leave the storm cloud at home.
- Think about your leaders. The leaders are the people who make everything happen. They have been up late, up early, back and forth to Walmart, made lists, made agendas, scheduled workers, scheduled meals, and as an added bonus, they have to put up with all the grown-ups working the event. I used to think leadership was kind of a glamorous position. Nope. Just a nicer way to say “everyone’s slave”. Be nice to them. Follow their schedules, show up on time, do all the things. Pretty please. I brought my two co-leaders a goodie bag every morning this year. It was a good move. They earned them.
- Love the people you’re serving that week. Think about all those little kiddos, or teenagers at camp, or homeless people you’re feeding. They all have stories, and lots of them are very hard stories. Put yourself in their shoes for a little while and remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. Pray for them and be specific. Learn as many of their names as you can. Give them hugs if it’s allowed. They can tell the people who care. It’ll make you a better helper, I guarantee it.
- Be flexible, but be honest. You want to be a help, so let them assign you a spot, and then if they have to move you, try and go with the flow … but. Here’s the other side of that. If you just can’t do teenagers, let the administration know, and hopefully they will stop nagging you to work teen camp. If the thought of watching toddlers for four hours every single morning for a week makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and chew your hair, please please please tell the people making the schedules. I have learned, just this year, that there are actually positions in kid ministry that I super hate. I hate being a group person who leads all the little munchkins to all their little places. Also, I just CANNOT do 2-yr-old rooms. I can’t. I mean, I did it for a few hours this last week but only under duress. It’s okay. You don’t have to be good at everything.
- Be encouraging to as many people as you can. There was a chick there this week who smiled every single moment of the world. No joke. I thought she was taking something besides creamer in her coffee, but I think she was just high on her own awesomeness. Friday morning someone mentioned (excitedly) that it was the last day, and that’s the first time I saw her smile falter. “That makes me so sad. This has been so much fun!” she said to general shock. I caught myself right before I wailed, “I just want it to end so I can take a nap!” and instead, I shouted, “What a fabulous attitude! Yay VBS!!” Smile and encourage. It’ll end and you can take a nap soon. (And I did.)
- Please do stay for the final clean up. This is always that one item on the agenda that everyone thinks is expendable. “Really? I’ve been here all week. Let someone else clean up.” Yeah, but here’s the deal, folks, that “someone” who does all that cleaning up, has also been there all week. 500 people made that mess and 12 people are left to clean it all up. Bite the bullet and dive in. I have 5 children. Everyone told me I could go home, but I stayed to help, and made all my children help too. It’s good for them to serve. It’s good for us to do that manual labor. It takes a lot less time to tear down all the posters than it did to put them up … especially if everyone helps. Our people were even extra nice about it; they bought us pizza beforehand.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your leaders. See above where we discuss doing things and being in rooms you just can’t handle. Embrace your own abilities and disabilities. If you’re a paperwork person, you will have much more fun volunteering if you get a job doing paperwork. Tell people your passions. They can probably use you wherever you would enjoy being used.
- Don’t break the rules set up for the week. If there’s a dress code, go with it. If you’re not supposed to get on your cell phone and waste time on Facebook during the meeting time, don’t. If they provide free coffee, drink it. I realize I don’t really have to tell you that last one.
- Don’t call in sick just because you’re tired. It means someone else has to be pulled from a job that needed to be done to do your job which also needed to be done. Again, ask for support. If you’re burned out because there is that one toddler that needs full-time supervision and you are that full time someone, let your leaders know that you’re about to lose it. Let them help you out. It’s their job, and they don’t mind doing it.
Happy Volunteering, y’all! I’m going to take a nap!