My teaching career began in a volunteer literacy program in Denver, the Adult Education Tutorial Program, started by a nun whose name I should not have forgotten. My first student was Ramon Hurtado who couldn’t read. He was in his thirties, the son of migrant farm workers. He’d had the chance to go to school but he hadn’t liked it. His dad saw no reason to force him. But, Ramon grew up and had two daughters. When the oldest reached second grade she realized her dad was not really READING the bedtime stories. He had come to school out of shame. It was a great experience for me, the biggest “high” I’d ever had and so I walked into my vocation.
I continued to teach there for the next few years, even after I returned from China and had a teaching job, I taught classes in beginning English. It’s great being a volunteer teacher. Your students are grateful. Your boss is grateful and you only get the good stuff from teaching (seeing people learn) with none of the bad. But you don’t get paid and that’s a major downside because of things like rent and food.
About six months after I got back from China, I went to work as a volunteer at the Asian Pacific Development Center in Denver, a (at the time new) mental health facility focused on helping Asian refugees adapt to a new life. They had also — the year before — begun the Festival of Asian Arts and Culture which I’d attended. I volunteered to help fund-raising and ended up coordinating the second of these two-week long city-wide festivals. It was a great experience, one of the best of my life.
I volunteered later in my life when I was teaching full time for money. I volunteered at an urban wilderness park in San Diego, Mission Trails Regional Park. I had already been hiking there for years. A serendipitous meeting between me and the president of the Foundation that had done the work to get these 7000 acres set aside for a park put me in the spot to be the first volunteer coordinator, the founder of a photography contest that’s still going on, grant-writer for an interpretive trail that can be used by disabled people — and more. It was wonderful.
Volunteering balanced my life in times past; it was something that worked when, often, other things didn’t work — marriage or work, for instance. And now? I’m at the “volunteer” age of life. I see it all around me — white haired baby-boomers out there volunteering and I’m not having anything to do with it. I’ve wondered why since my volunteer experiences were fantastic. I think it might be because 35 years of teaching pretty much sucked out my fervor and I’m just “over it” or maybe my life is balanced or I have changed. Who knows? Or maybe it’s because writing is kind of a “volunteer” job? 😉