The Motives Behind Volunteering
Why do you volunteer? What motivates you to go out and do something in your community – without monetary compensation? The encouragement to make a difference is unique for everyone. I realized this when I was recently asked: “what would make you feel appreciated as a volunteer?” Gift cards? Plaques? Thank you notes? At first I didn’t know how to respond. Then I started looking around my room and seeing everything I have collected from volunteering over the years. I have emails from coaches, thank you notes from students, a coffee cup from a Girl Scout event last year. So what did I want as a volunteer?
Watching eyes light up
That’s when it hit me. I don’t look for a thank you email in my inbox or a note at the end of the day. I look for the moment when a student finally solves a problem and their eyes light up. I watch 20 little faces glued to the experiment I’m doing at the front of the room, and I wait for the questions they ask once their walls come down and their imaginations run wild.
Finding answers together
A few months ago at a FIRST LEGO League meeting, one of my students asked me a question that I didn’t have the answer to. I told the classroom full of 5th graders that we will learn together! We brainstormed ideas on why the question was important and possible alternatives to answers. It was exciting to see everyone engaged, and eager to participate! Together, we came up with what we thought to be the answer to the girl’s intriguing question. It may not have been perfect or scientific, but it was a good experience for everyone in the room – myself included.
Exploring new experiences
Similarly, when working with preschoolers at a STEMfest, I came across a girl who was afraid of the Sphero, a remote control robot. She was three years old and had never experienced anything like the rainbow ball currently rolling around in front of her. I brought her the iPad and asked if she wanted to drive the robot. As she pushed around the control pad, the Sphero began to go wild across the room – bumping into things and changing colors. By the time we got around to doing the actual session, she was no longer afraid of the robot and instead became a pro at running it through the maze we created.
Embracing and building on new ideas
So, when it came time to answer the question: “what would make you feel appreciated as a volunteer?”, I clicked “Other”. No plaque or gift card could mean as much as the experience I have as a volunteer. I do cherish the thank you notes hanging around my room, but the notes themselves don’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the places I’ve been, the memories I’ve made, and the mountains I’ve helped conquer. But I can remember my students without that reminder. I can picture every hand and every shocking question. What I want as a volunteer is to continue creating atmospheres where children can ask questions and not be judged by the complexity of their answers. An environment that embraces ideas and builds upon them. As a volunteer, I want to learn as much from my students as they learn from me.
What makes you feel appreciated as a volunteer? Share your thoughts when you comment on my blog!