As of this year, September 11th will be recognized as National Day of Service and Remembrance. In this post, Astrid Sheil examines what motivates her -- and women in general -- to volunteer and "pass it on."
“You’re doing what? Are you crazy?” That was the response I got last week when I mentioned to a colleague of mine at Cal State University that I had volunteered for The Women’s Conference in October. She looked at me incredulously and said with a less than subtle hint of sarcasm in her voice, “You?? You -- who are writing a textbook and complaining about how far behind you are in producing chapters?? You -- who have consulting projects stacked to the ceiling? You -- a single mother of two kids?”
The truth is, I could not not volunteer. This got me thinking -- why do women volunteer? (I was going to say why do busy women volunteer, but then I realized, that’s redundant -- all women are busy!)
I had a few unformed ideas, but I decided to use a lifeline first and call my psychologist friend, Dr. Val Hannemann, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“Val!” I caught her out of breath, as usual. She was hauling hay to feed her four horses. “Hey, I have a serious question for you -- why do women volunteer?” She took a few gulps of air, leaned against her fence, and replied, “Oh, there are as many reasons as there are horse flies on a salt lick.” There’s a charming analogy, I thought.
Val continued. “Women volunteer to make social contacts and expand their sense of community.” I liked that concept -- expanding their sense of community.
Val rambled on. “Women like to hang with other women who have similar interests. So for example, if you have a passion for scrapbooking and you can volunteer at a scrapbooking convention, you’re going to feel like a pig in --” “Mud?” I replied quickly and then asked, “What are some other reasons?”
I could hear Val reaching into the recesses of her Jungian-trained brain. She said, “Women are hard-wired to be engaged in their communities. Volunteering connects women. They share, they compare, and they adopt new strategies to make a difference in the world -- their world.” This certainly explains why The Women’s Conference is growing exponentially. Women from all strata and walks of life are coming to this year’s conference to share, compare, and adopt new strategies on how to be -- as First Lady, Maria Shriver describes it -- “Architects of Change” in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Thanking her profusely and wishing her the best with her hay bales and salt licks, I then called my 80-year-old Puerto Rican mother in Miami. “Mom!” I said, “I’m writing a blog for The Women’s Conference and I want your perspective of why women volunteer.” There was a long pause and then she said, “Hija, why are you riding a frog?”
“No, mom, not a frog—a blog…and I’m not riding it, I’m writing it!!” I shouted into the cell phone. Carrumba!
Once I got mom past the blog part (which took way longer than I care to disclose), her answer to why women volunteer was simple and sweet: “We volunteer because we get back more than we give.” And then she added the kicker: “You feel better about everything because you are part of something bigger than yourself.”
Last year, I watched the streaming video online from my office in San Bernardino. (The Women’s Conference provides a webcast of the events for women who aren’t able to be there in-person.) I saw thousands of women listening to Governor Schwarzenegger and Chris Matthews wax rhapsodic about their wives. Even through my 13-inch monitor, I could feel the energy of the crowd, and I was mesmerized. There was no doubt that I would attend this year, but then something came over me when I visited the website -- and without hesitation, I signed up to be a volunteer. I have never felt better about any decision I have ever made.
The momentum is already starting to build and I can’t wait for the conference to begin. Look for me down on the floor of the main hall. I’ll be the 6 foot tall blonde Puerto Rican helping to turn up the wattage of possibilities for all women, who like my mother and myself, want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
If you want to volunteer in your community, visit www.serve.gov to find out about opportunities.
For those of you who can’t attend The Women's Conference this year, join us online by visiting our homepage on October 26th and 27th.
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University. She will be covering the The Women's Conference in October.