volunteering is hard

for several years i’ve been wanting to do a little bit of volunteer work. since i work from home, waste no time commuting and never take a ‘lunch’, i could easily take an hour or two out of my day to do some good for someone, somewhere. being a big sister was high on my list. taking a kid to the zoo in central park would be fun. or clothes shopping every once in a while, maybe buying an outfit for their first day of school – i would love that. i would teach my little sister all of the things she may not have the opportunity to learn in her present environment, like the value of an education and why proper nutrition is so important. then we could hang out at my place and read wayne dyer’s kids books and concoct extreme salads! it would be great.  or, now that i live right across the street from the ronald mcdonald house, i was thinking i could bring ivan over a couple of times a week to hang out with the kids who may be missing their dog at home, while they were getting cancer treatments in nyc.

a lot of people need a lot of things – and it would be good for me to get out of the apartment more; but volunteering is harder than you think. the rules are ridiculous. no reading to a child in need of a mentor prior to a complete physical, a battery of blood tests and a test for tb, all at your own expense.  then there are interviews and psychological evaluations, training classes and so many rules that by the time you’re done listening to the list of requirements, joining the army seems like a better choice.  oh, and you’re not actually allowed to do anything fun with the kid.  no road trips – not even to central park or tasti delight for a frozen yogurt.

ok then, the ronald macdonald house will get my spare time. plus, ivan will be with me and that’s added incentive. but not before he gets a complete physical and attends a $350 eight week training course for his service dog certification! and after that is complete, i would be required to attend workshops on how to volunteer after all of my blood tests were approved by the rmdh staff.  why do they make helping so hard?

back in mid august  i found a website called  voulnteer match  and browsed around to see if they had something that wouldn’t require me to quit my full time job in order to prepare to help people in some way.

“exercise instructor for victims of domestic violence and abuse”

this may be something i could do. i called for more information. julia, the volunteer coordinator told me this was a one day event for abused jewish women of poverty, from the religious community. it was an opportunity for moms to have some time for themselves. the volunteer organization rented a space in soho for the event which would take place on october 18th.  the moms would drop their kids off in a large room filled with games, toys and plenty of volunteers for an hour of fun, while the adult exercise class was in progress. i would not have to do any more than fill out a short application and the job was mine – perfect!  i told julia to sign me up!  since the date of the event was more than 6 weeks away, i had ample time to review my notes from the old personal training days and prepare a class for the abused and impoverished jewish women.

several weeks after i had committed to teaching the ‘exercise’ class, julia sent me another e-mail to inquire about my interest in teaching an exercise class to senior citizens in a low income housing project just 12 blocks away from my apartment. it would be a weekly committment for just one hour.  this seemed like a good opportunity to do some good without interfering with my job. not only would this force me to take a ‘lunch hour’ which i rarely do, it would get me out even if it was just for a 10 minute walk down first avenue to spend an hour with people over the age of 65. not much of a man meeting opportunity, but it may very well be the catalyst which prompts me to get back on match.com.

just about 2 weeks prior to the 18th of october, julia e-mailed me to confirm the date and time of the yoga class.  yoga? she never mentioned yoga!  i am not a yoga teacher and cannot become a yoga teacher in two weeks. i immediately checked the old e-mails from julia just to be sure i wasn’t crazy. no mention of yoga. i got julia on the phone to inform her there had been a misunderstanding.  she apologized and told me not to worry as she was pretty sure these women had never taken a yoga class before and would not know the difference. she went on to say “oh, and don’t expect any of the women to show up in yoga clothing . . . they’re very religious and modesty will be an issue.”  the picture in my mind of 20 wig-wearing women in full length skirts with back seam opaque stockings left me speechless.  i envisioned 20 wigs on the floor as i directed the women to hold their position in downward dog.

“what about mats?” i asked.

“oh”, replied julia, do you have any?

“not 20”  i said, at which time  julia casually offered to bring her own yoga mat.  great, i’ll only need about 19 more.

“i will need music as well – will there be a stereo system that i may plug an ipod into?”  i asked

julia said she didn’t think so.  ok .  .  .  i had 2 weeks to become a faux yoga instructor, manifest 19 yoga mats and figure out a way to get music in the room.  oy vey!

the first thing on my list was ‘learn yoga’.  i got out all of my yoga dvd’s.  i immediately returned the brian kest dvd to it’s home in my closet.  i had never even been able to complete an entire kest routine even on a good day.  crunch yoga? –  still way too hard for a beginners class.  om with cyndi lee?   too spiritually oriented for a group of religious jewish women.  at barnes & noble i found a nice giam beginners class on dvd for $23.95. although no where in my 350 square foot apartment is there enough space to manuver through an entire yoga sequence, i practiced the best i could and then begin scripting the class and combining just the right mix of meditative music for a one hour class.

i own 4 yoga mats including the nasty green soot-stained mat that stays in the backyard and serves mostly as a bed for ivan during the day.   there another 4 mats at my parents house sent to my by my awesome friend, mel.  the $53.00 mats were donated by the manufacturer for a day of yoga and meditation that mel was hosting in los angeles. after the event, mel asked if i had any use for 4 of the left over mats.  Figuring they may come in handy for an event someday, i said yes. she sent them to me and i stored them in new jersey.  that’s 8 mats total plus julia’s mat equals 9.  several weeks ago i saw mats on sale in tj max for $9.99.  i bought 3.  twelve mats will have to do.  total investment to date: roughly $54.00 and a special trip to nj.

as i practiced teaching the routine each evening, it became apparent that music was not optional.  it also became apparent that i was at least a size and a half larger than i was the last time i taught an exercise class.  i purchased an ipod dock at pc richards and a new yoga outfit at tj maxx.

October 18th, 2009

we are having a noreaster.  i load the car with mats, music box, ipod, gong, sage spray, the ‘please remember to turn off your cell phone’ sign, tape to affix the sign and my notecards that i will strategically place around the room just incase i draw a blank and forget what comes next in the routine. i head down to soho and ask pop to help me out with a good parking spot.  as always, he pulled through and i parked the car 1/2 a block away from the event location.  after unloading the car i was only mildly soaked. I have 40 minutes to dry, set up the room, go over my script one last time, and 15 minutes to meditate on playing the part of an experienced yoga teacher.

the room was much bigger than i had expected.  it was actually 1/2 of a gymnasium.  i placed the mats in a staggered line so that everyone could see me in the front of the room and have plenty of space to move without bumping into the person next to them.  i put my mat in the front of the room.  at the end of my mat i placed my beautiful cast iron gong  upon it’s round burgundy silk pillow.   i planned to use the gong to end both the introductory and ending meditations which i hoped would enhance my credibility as a real yogi.  i hid note cards with an outline of the routine underneath both the front and the back of my mat.   next, i set up the speakers and programmed the ipod to the  ‘yoga class’  playlist, dimmed the lighting in the gym and cleared the energy in the room with sage.  outside of the entrance to the room i taped the sign i made asking the women to turn off their cell phones.  i wondered if impoverished women had cell phones but  i posted the sign just in case.  i had 15 minutes of meditation time before the women would arrive.  exactly 15 minutes into my meditation, julia entered the room to inform me that  “this population is characteristically late”  and will most likely begin to arrive around 12:15.  my calm mind instantly went into overdrive as i wondered about the people who would show up at 12:15 for a 12:00 yoga class.  before i let myself get too carried away, i decided to use the time to go over my script once more.  at 12:15 i sat in crossed legged position in the middle of my mat all alone in the giant gymnasium and patiently waited.

at 12:30 i turned on my cell phone and called julia who was in another room setting up all of the games for the 30 children who were expected to arrive momentarily.  julia apologized to me for the wait and assured me that this was not unusual behavior for  ‘this population’.  she invited me to come to the playroom and meet the other volunteers who were waiting for the crowd to arrive. after spending 70 minutes alone in the gymnasium, i told her i would be right there.

i was surprised to see twenty three people in the room.  julia and two other staff members from the volunteer organization, and 20  volunteers who had given up their sunday to entertain the children, were sitting around playing go fish, pictionary, and nerf basketball.  julia introduced me to everyone and i made small talk with the staff director.  at 12:50, julia left the room to call the women who had rsvp’d.  she came back to the room at 1:00 and announced to the group that one carload of people, 3 adults and 8 children, were on their way and promised to arrive in 10 minutes. that would be ten minutes after one oclock, which is 10 minutes after the yoga class was scheduled to end.  again, julia apologized and asked if i would stay and do just a 1/2 hour class beginning at 1:15.  i agreed and went back to the gymnasium to get myself centered.  i reminded myself that these women had all been victims of domestic violence and were living below poverty level  with children to raise on their own.  i thought about byron katie and  “loving what is”.  i rolled up most of the yoga mats and left 4 in place for the 3 women who were on their way and one extra – just in case.  it was now 1:15 and according to my plan for the day, i would have been just finishing up packing everything into my car so that i would be home by 1:45 to walk ivan, who was probably sitting by the door with his legs crossed since he is used to going out at noon each day.  “love what is. . .”  i kept repeating to myself.

at 1:20 i rolled up the remaining mats, packed up my gong and my new ipod docking station, removed the sign from the door, schleped 1/2 a block through the torrential rain to my car and headed home in my fabulous new outfit.  volunteering is much harder than i thought.


“I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.”

 – E. V. Lucas

1427251869_Grey Ball

3 responses to “volunteering is hard

  1. Reblogged this on my zen city and commented:

    still funny after all these years . . . . (i think).


  2. Thank you for writing this fabulous article about how hard it is to volunteer in New York City nowadays.
    They make it a nightmare of bureaucratic procedures, just to be kind to others…

    This is what the fear based mentality leads to….

    Do you know the saying “it’s a jungle out there?”

    A system that fears and suspects everyone as a potential predator instead of a kind soul who wishes to help, creates a belief that the world is a jungle filled with predatory animals..

    So what is the lesson FOR YOU here?

    In my humble opinion…… it is a good reminder that the world does NOT need your time, or your money.
    It needs YOU.
    With your own unique beauty and clear message.

    It needs the way you see things and filter information in a caring, humorous and very humane way.

    The greatest gift you can offer, is not to fix a rigged system, but to remind people of their inner Divine Selves, by remembering YOUR OWN.

    All my blessing big sister,
    Tali Landsman

    Liked by 1 person

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