It’s Not Recognition I Want, But A Thank You Helps

Handprint flowers on the tables of the volunteer luncheonI’m about to attend my first Volunteer Recognition Luncheon. What do I wear? Who will I sit by? Wish me luck.

It isn’t the first time I’ve volunteered, but it’s the first time I’ve attended a recognition event for doing so. I’ve volunteered in a minor capacity at my children’s elementary school since my oldest was in kindergarten, nine years ago. Paul and I have been the classroom’s mystery reader, read one-on-one with struggling students and moderated reading group discussions. We’ve found our niche, and volunteered consistently—not frequently—but consistently throughout the elementary school years. Now it’s our last year before our youngest child moves on.

So why is this the first time I’m going? Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to be recognized with the same people who give so much more to the school. I’ve never been on a field trip. I pay PTA dues but have only attended one meeting. I never worked in the kitchen for a family fun night. These are the volunteer workers who are the backbone of that school. How can I sit by them when I’ve done so little?

I belittle my own service there, but I give much of my time away for free in other places so I do know the value all volunteers add to anything and everything. Chances are good that if a person is giving in one organization, they are giving to another. Once we start giving we continue to give because we feel that value added to the organization and to our own life. In reality, we’ve already been paid for that service before it even comes time to recognize the effort.

Still, a thank you is always nice, so I’m off to receive mine (in a somewhat embarrassed way), and I’ll finish this post when I return and tell you how it goes. . . .

. . . And now, I’m back, again.

My daughter’s class presented a skit illustrating each letter of the word VOLUNTEER. She was the U. I sat and ate with four or five friends and acquaintances, made contact with a friend who is moving next week, and met a woman whose first grade daughter does her own laundry. We all admired the decorations created by little hands to express appreciation. On the way out, I met a retired gentlemen who reads pirate stories to the first grade classes all over the district. And we applauded those core volunteers who really give the most effort.

There is no question these volunteers’ efforts were important, but was it important for me to take part, too? Although none of us was looking for recognition and all of us felt sheepish about accepting it, the thank you spurred us to make honest personal interactions with each other while we were there. I left encouraged to do more. I dropped by two friends’ homes and my husband’s office on the way home, wanting that real, human community connection.

Last week, I received a thank you note in my mailbox from someone with whom I served in a volunteer capacity for long hours over several years. The time frame said something to me. It said she waited until her gratitude was genuine. It said that the service touched her life. When she reached out like this, I recalled how she touched mine. That was one of the best recognitions I’ve ever received.

The simple, often private, and personal words of appreciation like, “Thank you for your service,” motivate us to continue. We know someone received what we gave, and we’re ready to give again.

1 Comment

  1. An Ordinary Mom
    May 6, 2009

    This is such a simple yet powerful concept. Service begets service … just like in little kids, sleep begets sleep.

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