Friday, March 20, 2009

Volunteers for America

I'll admit it, I do things I'm ashamed of, that people laugh at me for doing, tell me I'm stupid and wasting my time to do. And I don't mean this blog.

I'm talkin' volunteering. While it may be a little hipper now post-Obama, the first time I got involved as a volunteer in my community (a literacy project teaching adults to read, in Missouri during the early 90s) I felt an outcast. Unless one was a God-fearin' Jeebus-lovin' church-goer, one didn't do such things. And then only at church. On Sundays. Only weirdos and crazy liberals and maybe communists "volunteered" their time. Idjits!

Maybe where you live the reaction would have been different, but I know that a few years after the literacy debacle (the program was demeaning toward its participants and I grew very disillusioned with its methodology) I was openly mocked in my new community by coworkers when they learned I was volunteering with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), helping to monitor, track, support and act as a voice for children in the court system for reasons of abuse and neglect. They couldn't believe I would waste my time running around from foster homes to child care services to lawyers to court itself on my days off. Hadn't I ever heard about a little thing called Tee-Vee? That's what one occupies one's free time with, mister!

I stayed for about three years with CASA, eventually getting burned out by it the grinding stupidity of the court system. I enjoyed working with the kids and I busted my butt to make sure they had a proper voice in court looking out for their needs and rights and I saw every one of my cases through from the beginning to the end. By the end, though, I was very tired, worn out by the lack of caring within the system, at all levels, as well as the bureaucratic nightmare of it all.

In addition, by the end of my days at CASA, I was teaching full-time rather than working in the more sheltered dales of academe as I had been for several years. So I was getting daily contact now and working with lots of at-risk youth, which job I'm still doing. Which job I love doing. But I couldn't stop volunteering. Once you get the bug, you can't shake it.

Being a volunteer can be an utterly thankless chore, under appreciated if appreciated at all, and sometimes the only joy to be had is in the work you do and the people you do it with or for. But that's usually enough, because being thanked for doing something for free is not why one does it, not why one volunteers (or it shouldn't be). For me, it's because I believe in giving back to my community, to the small world inside the big world that I live in and just trying to improve the quality of life for all.

These days, I do my thing working on our local film festival with about four or five other stoopid volunteers, reviewing dozens and dozens of crappy independent films over the spring and summer months, drinking many beers, trying to weed out enough gems and near-gems to fill out three or four days of programming for our fall festival. We work really hard for months on this, finding sponsors and guests and venues and trying to work cooperatively with other organizations and groups. Then we exhaust ourselves for about a week in September putting the actual festival on. It's great fun. Five years and counting now and every year we get bigger and the films get better and more people come out to enjoy the big, big show. We've worked hard to be as inclusive as possible, too, to make a film festival that everyone can enjoy, that appeals to the widest spectrum of the community and not just an intellectual/artistic or monied/cultural elite. I would have walked away from it years ago if we'd gone that direction. I also design the posters and t-shirts and fliers and the website for the fest (and for lots of other local events, arts-related and otherwise).

And as if I don't have enough on my plate, between the above and working and being a dad and a husband, I'm itching to find more to do, other directions to put my energy into. Because energy is what it's probably all about in the end. You give, you get. It's a cycle. Vrooom! (or other engine noise...)

In the spirit of giving energy, of volunteering, here's the Jefferson Airplane and my absolute favorite live boot of them. I've got dozens by JA, but I'd give a lot to go back in time for this one show only. Enjoy.

Jefferson Airplane - Live at Winterland, San Francisco, CA (10-4-70) 1 -2

And buy shit, too, please, sirs and madams.


Anonymous said...

You're right. Again. -valis

oldrocker99 said...

One of the best concerts I ever saw was JA in Kansas City early 1970. They BURNED...