Being a part of more than 600 hands-on volunteer projects, I have personally witnessed the gamut of on-site volunteer experiences. Both good and bad. One that made me personally realize how we truly impact two very distinct parties (the recipient and the volunteer team) was one of our early home makeovers in Flagstaff, Arizona more than a decade ago.
A local financial services firm adopted the home of a low-income elderly lady who had recently lost her husband, and only sister, within the same month. Her home for the last 45 years desperately needed more than a little help.
Since there were other makeovers on the same day, and I was acting as a “supervisory floater”, I personally arrived at this home just after 9:00 a.m., roughly two hours after the start. Upon driving up to the modest, older bungalow, I witnessed a crowd of about 40 volunteers just standing around, sitting in chairs and laying on the ground. I immediately witnessed one volunteer dressed in an “alien-like” outfit with an “alien-like” machine of some sort in his hand.
My first instinct was, “What a lazy team, only a single volunteer is working?” As I walked up to determine what may have gone wrong, the Site Captain informed me that the husband of one of the employees at the financial services firm decided to bring a professional paint sprayer and single-handedly paint the home. Although we absolutely applauded this person for his attempt at finishing this project in record time, it left all but one employee volunteer team member feeling unable to help—unable to do something worthwhile.
As I reluctantly shared with the person with the sprayer, that although we appreciated his earnest efforts, we would prefer all the volunteers to contribute, perhaps in a slightly old-fashioned way. The cheers and jubilation from those volunteers just waiting around, was overwhelming. The volunteers shared with me that although earlier, they helped to prep the home and tape the windows, they decided to volunteer to “enjoy the experience”. Painting the home with rollers and brushes, helping other team members with a technique, putting the finishing touches on the accent trim, and sharing life stories on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Hands-on team building experiences, especially those in the painting or makeover world, are all about the “experience”. Yes, the sprayer likely could have completed the home much faster--like in an hour. But it’s the “volunteer experience” of that special day that makes it rewarding and meaningful. Lesson learned.
Well after lunch, when 92 year-old Margaret W., with the help of a walker, completed her daunting journey from her living room to the outside of her home, and started sobbing about what this day meant to her, every single volunteer in attendance knew the real impact they had just made.
No longer was Margaret embarrassed about the look of her home. No longer was Margaret afraid of "the looks" she previously experienced from neighbors. No longer was Margaret wondering if anyone cared about her anymore. She now felt cared for. Again. She now felt she mattered. Again.
Because the real impact can’t be measured in quarts and gallons.
Marshall G. Zotara
Senior Managing Director