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Take it easy on the volunteers

I have a reason for writing this week’s column, but you won’t know exactly what it is. I’ll guard that under the cloak of ambiguity. Sorry to leave you a little in the dark. Nonetheless as we emerge from the grasp the COVID-19 pandemic has had on us this last year, we need to take it easy on the volunteers.

Gatherings are just beginning to peek out from their banishment. Organizations that have not been able to have events, for all the right reasons, are gearing up. We have an unsettled spring and summer ahead. But the fall of the year could see a wonderful array of our favorite gatherings take off. Their return will be so welcome. 

As we begin to mobilize these who serve and give freely of their time, I’d like to speak a word on their collective behalf. We need them, and I hope our time in relative hiding has kindled our sense of gratefulness for what they do. I know it would be naive to think so completely, though.

A lot of our world is run by volunteers. You know that much. We have so many fabulous people who give of their time right here in our community. I bet you could stop and name several you know right now. What you may not always have is a window to watch how overly expectant people can sometimes treat the volunteers. 

I confess, we’ve all probably acted inappropriately toward someone who is unpaid. What I’ll do here is paint a composite of fairly common, universal vignettes where I’ve seen folks be treated in less than the manner they deserve. A career doing what I do will show you the best and worst of how people can act. Then, let’s see what we can learn. 

In all but the rarest situations, your little league team is coached by people who do so purely for the love of the game. Your child or grandchild’s basketball or football team has volunteer coaches and team parents. Do you realize how some athletic associations struggle these days to find willing coaches because of how parents treat them at times? 

A woman who is dear to me served directly for 24 years with a lead teacher in a children’s group. This was in a church setting. I don’t know how she tolerated the crabby attitude and constant berating the lead teacher dealt out. I witnessed the tears at times. For years, she would quietly go to the pastor who would say, “Julie, you know how she is. I’m sorry she’s like that, but she’s like that to everyone. Don’t take it personally.” That would talk the assistant back in off the figurative ledge for a period of time. 

The leader of your child’s fundraiser is criticized for this year’s strategies by people who would never volunteer. Your book club’s leader is criticized for the choice of books by the same people, month after month. They simply don’t have to even be in the book club. The cancer relay is held in the wrong location or the weather is too hot, according to folks who just like to gripe. The civic organization crew chief is barraged with “suggestions” for improvement by people who yet again this year didn’t volunteer to carry some of the weight. 

Is it any wonder that it’s tough sometimes to find willing volunteers? There is a place for suggestions, but they should be just that. Suggestions, not criticism or ultimatums. There are constructive ways to give feedback, or at least there should be in your organizations. But your volunteers don’t have to volunteer for one minute longer. You might want to take it easy on them and not run them off. That Christmas event you like or the festival you enjoy might implode if folks won’t serve again. 

In some ways, we’ve all had a break from so many of the willing efforts that the community counts on. Now, we’re slowly ramping back up. Maybe it’s time for some of us to step forward and raise our hand offering to help. Maybe it’s time for some of us to return to our accustomed places of willing service, eager for the chance to serve again. But there’s no doubt that I hope all of us will demonstrate our appreciation for those who do. Rather than wear them out, let’s build them up and maybe even join them. 

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.