Hey Moms – Should we quit volunteering at our kids’ schools?

I just read an interesting article called “Why I’m Sick of Volunteering at my Kids’ Wealthy School.” If you are a parent of an elementary school student, I encourage you to click on over and give it a read.

The author describes the seemingly endless requests for her time at her childrens’ school in the following manner:

“Most of these unpaid volunteer activities, while seemingly well-intentioned, are, in fact, unnecessary make-work, designed to make us feel good about ourselves even as they allow us to ignore more significant social problems, like overcrowded and underfunded schools nearby but not in our neighborhood.”

She goes on to say that the volunteer time of mothers and fathers with children in wealthier districts would be better spent in neighboring school districts with less money, less resources, and less parental involvement. She argues that those less funded schools are in true need of volunteers (volunteers who could, perhaps, read books to struggling readers whose parents don’t speak English), whereas volunteer time in the wealthy schools is frivolous (decorating the teacher’s break room is one example).

WOW. Just…wow. So much to process in her thoughts. I didn’t agree with every sentiment in her article, but I love that she gave me so much to think about.

So, full disclosure: I volunteer twice a week at the boys school. It’s a brand new K – 5th grade school in a well performing district; very nice, with lots of resources. Most of the children there are from solid middle to upper middle class families.

As compelling as I found this article, after giving it much thought I plan to keep volunteering there for a few more years.

I spend a couple hours at the school in Ryan’s class on Tuesdays, and Dylan’s class on Thursdays. Kids read aloud to me…I help kids finish up assignments…I help groups finish projects…and sometimes I spend the entire two hours running the copy machine or laminator. It’s very glamorous. I concede the authors point that the “work” I do at the boys’ elementary school is not changing the course of anyone’s life. These are good kids, with parents and teachers looking out for their educational well-being. I do pray that I could be an encourager to a kid who might need it, but for the most part these kids are thriving well-adjusted little bundles of joy. The attention and time I give them is just a small, small minuscule drop in the bucket among lots of other people giving them lots time and lots of attention.

But…even though I know I’m not acting as a shining beacon of hope and encouragement for a struggling kid who needs help…I do find real value in my time there beyond “patting myself as the back” – the motivation the author assumes. I’m can be as guilty as self-pride as the next person, but seriously? I never expected any accolades for hanging out with my boys and their friends a couple afternoons a week. The “patting on the back” thing is a poor assumption.

As I think back to why I started…I just wanted to be around the boys. I missed them. I wanted to know their friends. I wanted to experience their classrooms and know what kind of teacher they were spending 7 hours with each day. But it has evolved into providing significant parenting moments. My time there has provided chances for great discourse. “You know, you’re right. So-and-so is kind of mean sometimes! I see why you complain that he’s not nice to you. But how do you think we should treat him? It’ll be pretty tough to be kind to him on your own – you’ll really have to rely on Jesus! How can you consider him over yourself? How can you show him God’s love?” I can ask if they noticed that a child seemed lonely during center time. And if they did notice, how can they be a friend to them? I can see those traces of unhealthy pride that sneak up when they excel above their friends at a given activity, or those hints of hurt when they drop a few rungs on the social ladder. And even if I never talk to them about those little glimpses (in fact, most times I don’t), I can talk to God about those things in my prayer time for them.

So for now I have to say “No” to an idea that inspires me – spending time with kids in struggling schools, kids who may be sorely lacking in attention and time (there is an active group in Lubbock, doing just that) – so that I can say “Yes” to parenting my kids in the best way I know how. The insight I get spending those couple hours a week with them has real value as I travel this sometimes scary road of bringing up boys; and Lauryn will be navigating school in a few short years.

In the meantime, I will continue to build relationships with kids at church who have real need. Kids who are weathering the storm of divorced and embittered parents….Kids who are brought to church by their grandmothers who rescue them from bad situations for a few hours each Sunday morning…Kids who talk to me about their ill loved ones, because it makes their mom too sad if they talk about it at home….Kids who mourn the Dad that never calls them, and the Mom who is always to tired to play. I know that by God’s grace I’m providing a small amount of encouragement to those kids, and that God hears my prayers for them.

But in my heart, I’m left wondering about those kids who will never walk through the doors of my church. Kids who are out of my reach. Out of reach of anyone who might have an encouraging word or belief in them. To reach them, someone is going to have to move. It’s not going to be them. It’s going to have to be me.

Someday,when this monumental task of raising my small children is past, you will find me moving to reach those kids who need something that maybe, just maybe, I can give them.

Listen – I’m not naive. I work with high need/low income families in their homes in the course of my work a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist. For every family I pour my time and energy into, guiding them toward better interaction with their kids and more effective parenting, it’s a small percentage that radically change their course. I know I don’t have a magical influence over people just because my intentions are good. But even if the difference I could make in kids’ lives on my own might be small and even insignificant – what if other moms, maybe lots of other moms, could be encouraged and empowered to give an hour of their week at an at-risk school? Hmm…if you know me in real life, you could be getting a phone call in a few years to come join me. We’ll see how the Lord grows this dream over the next few years as I work for now in the season He’s placed me in.

So moms, do you feel time spent at your child’s school has value? Do you feel you could make a greater difference elsewhere? I’d love to hear your thoughts via comments, email, or over a cup of coffee!

(Sorry, but a few of you don’t have a choice regarding chatting with me over a cup of coffee. You know who you are. [insert evil laugh here])

ht: kctipton

8 comments on “Hey Moms – Should we quit volunteering at our kids’ schools?

  1. I totally understand the thought, and commend the article author on wanting to do something more meaningful. I would argue that spending time with your kids at school IS meaningful; but she brings up an interesting idea.

    I agree that not all volunteer work is created equal. The problem may lie in the ignorance of most middle to upper middle class people to know the poverty and need in their own communities. I talk with people all the time, that think of those underperforming schools and poor neighborhoods as “getting what they deserve.”

    So how would you make parents decorating the teacher break room at the school to even know there is a terrible need across town.

  2. Wow this is deep. I was not able to connect to the article so bear that in mind. I have full faith however in Starr’s ability to illuminate a subject. I have some pretty strong opinions on volunteering that I mostly keep private. I think the writer of this article has a very valid point and a creative, inspired idea. What I don’t understand is why she thinks she has to convince other people to do as she does. This is a common part of society currently, as I see it, and is illustrated within your post Starr – if God has called your heart to do this- why would you feel it necessary to convince others to do it with you? Might not God have something ENTIRELY different for them? And might such persons not miss that calling if they opt to go with your calling instead? And if one misses God’s specific calling to serve, how can the service they are doing be with a truly pure heart? I believe God’s call for each of us is very specific, and perfectly tailored to our strengths and passions, and will not always fit in a standard size “volunteer position” package. Is this not why so many volunteers are secretly serving with bitterness and regret, staying on largely out of guilt, passing on those negative feelings to the people they are serving for and with.

    Of course I am overstating this for effect in this case, and I absolutely applaud the spread of new ideas and food for thought.

    As a side note, “getting what they deserve” Jonathan? People actually say that ever? much less “all the time”? Come on.

    Feeling feisty today,


  3. Cheri – Thanks for sharing your feisty thoughts! :-)

    I agree the “spread of good ideas” is to be applauded, but I think it’s also up to us to go a step further than simply giving “food for thought” and take that next commanded step to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” (Hebrews 10:24 KJV) Another version says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (NIV) Being “provoked” or “spurred” isn’t always fun (whether the one being provoked or the one doing the provoking), but apparently it’s necessary. How can I truly care for and encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ if I neither know or care that they are engaged in “good deeds”? It might be my personality that makes scripture verses about encouraging/exhorting/imploring (strong word!) one another towards good works stick out to me (maybe I just want to be in everyone’s business? Ha!), but I don’t find that we are to have a hands-off “live and let live” attitude with one another.

    I will concede that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to jump on our own personal bandwagons, but rather giving them overall encouragement to find their passion and then do something about it. But aren’t some things, some “callings” if you will, to be shared and addressed by all Christ followers, regardless of individual passions? Should we all be finding real ways to care for “the least of these”? And can’t we work better together as part of something bigger than ourselves, each person contributing their giftings as part of one body, rather than each individual working as a lone ranger?

    Maybe our main point of disagreement is that you are seeing people you assume have been guilted into volunteering in ways they don’t feel passionate about….and I am seeing people I assume are doing nothing at all? And probably, neither of us should be assuming! :-)

    For the record – if you or any other friend I love is serving in a way they do feel passionate about, I would be honored to be asked to join in. And if my time and passions are a better fit elsewhere, I’ll know that or I’ll soon determine it. But I would like the chance to find out.

  4. Very well put. I’m certainly not going to argue with scripture! Good thoughts on the “assuming” thing too.
    Thanks for a good discussion.


  5. Cheri – Cracking up as I read back through my post….notice all the “questions” that can only be answered in a way I would like? Like that book that annoyed you? Ha!!!!

    And I think your points are valid without being contradictory toward scripture. There is certainly a point where “encouraging one another” toward service can selfishly cross over into pulling people away from their passions to get them to contribute instead to your own. I probably sometimes cross that line – but I think I can live with that if occasionally I help people wake up to real need. Thanks for the great thoughts. No doubt I will be forcing you to explore this further as you edit my upcoming conference material. :-)

  6. Not to open a can of worms on this wonderful blog, but I have heard variations of this idea:

    (I talk with people all the time, that think of those underperforming schools and poor neighborhoods as “getting what they deserve.”)

    expressed in many situations. This from a background of working inside and outside of poverish and inner city areas; as well as inside and outside of well-to-do areas.

    Usually it’s said like this, “Those parents wouldn’t know what to do with better resources.” “If they would work harder, they’d have more.” or maybe “They’ve been given a ton, and look what they’ve done with it.”

    My point is that I hear on a regular basis (maybe it’s my politically-motivated acquaintances only) that poor and/or poverish areas are their own problems. Sometimes it’s that attitude, that helps them ignore the conditions right across town. And yes, I realize there is truth in all those statements, but there is more truth in Matthew 25:40 just staring at me.

    I realize this could sound like an affront on a particular person, and its not. I am speaking in general terms towards attitudes and perceptions from those I’ve encountered. Not from anyone that has ever left a comment on my wife’s blog…nor my wife. :)

  7. Not only are you making so much more of a difference in the kids’ lives, you are appreciated by the boys’ teachers…more than you can imagine. Thank you for doing your part!

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