Volunteering as a New, Summer Tradition

More volunteers are needed during the summer in Greater Boston, due to reductions in college students and ongoing volunteers who take summer breaks and vacations. This is a sharp contrast to the huge numbers of people who think of volunteering primarily on Thanksgiving and Christmas, when most charities cannot accommodate them due to space, logistics, and cultural constraints.

PMD’s popular, one-time service projects and even Boston’s largest and most recognized shelters, Pine Street Inn and Rosie’s Place, face volunteer shortages during the summer, so for the past decade I have worked to increase awareness of this problem and have organized more PMD projects to address it directly. As a result, PMD has evolved from assisting only charities with no staff dedicated to working with volunteers to including more than a third that do have staff dedicated to recruiting and managing volunteers.

My rationale is that learning that volunteers are really needed during the summer will change the mindset of some people who previously were only been interested in doing so on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Furthermore, organizing PMD projects that assist specific charities each year gives people opportunities to make these volunteer activities their annual, summer traditions among friends and family.

I deliberately avoid planning PMD projects and personally volunteering on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (In fact, you’ll often find me washing dishes or cooking as a volunteer the day after these holidays.) Charities are busy with additional programming during the holidays and overwhelmed by well-intentioned and clueless people who require specialized responses from understaffed programs. Most actually don’t need that many more people to help their ongoing volunteers serve meals (as they do daily throughout the year), and repeatedly tell me that their guests/clients feel more comfortable spending the holidays with the staff and ongoing volunteers who they already know, rather than newcomers. It makes good sense to respect what these charities say they need since they know how best to serve their guests during the stressful holidays and throughout the rest of the year.

Why else should people volunteer during the summer? A much more relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere. The turmoil and stress of driving, shopping, organizing, cooking, and hosting guests for Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to make even the most devoted volunteers, stressed, overwhelmed, and unable to follow through on their obligations, so why add another commitment to your holiday schedule?

Another good reason to volunteer during the summer is that some charities* may be willing to be flexible about their requirements. While many may advertise that they require a six-month or longer commitment and want volunteers to participate once a week, if they have a summer volunteer shortage and you can be trained and involved enough to meet their needs (e.g., every other week, or for the summer when your office is only open half-days on Fridays), then you may be able to strike a deal that balances your and their needs and serves the greater good. So be sure to speak with the volunteer manager and inquire as to whether any flexibility may be possible during the summer.*PMD’s requirements are minimal (i.e., get to/from the project site on your own and participate for the entire 2-7 hour project that you select), so we cannot offer additional flexibility.

I sincerely hope that you will find a way to make time to volunteer this summer. I would be thrilled to learn that you have involved others to make it a new, summer tradition, much like spending a week on the Cape & Islands.

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