What Happened to the Need for Volunteers?


I’m a 29-year-old professional woman, college-educated, and I’m dying to volunteer for my neighborhood’s at-risk kids.  

There’s just one problem: no one wants my help.

Today is one of those days I’m veering off-topic. And yes, perhaps this is a bit of a rant. But I see something wrong–very wrong–with my recent discovery. And I cannot remain silent.

What I want(ed) to do 

I grew up in the vibrant dance culture of Phoenix, Ariz. (yes, we do have one, believe-it-or-not). I danced ballet, jazz, lyrical … 15 hours a week. I helped put myself through college by teaching dance.

And now that I work a professional 9-5, I want to teach it again. Except this time, I don’t want to be paid. I want to volunteer as a dance teacher and mentor for teenage girls in my neighborhood’s high school dance program.

It’s a Title 1 school. That means it receives federal funds because many of its students are at-risk, from low-income households.

Since this summer, I’ve been trying to call the school. I’ve left messages with the principal, the office staff, and even the staff dance teacher. I went so far as to call the SCHOOL DISTRICT and leave a message for their volunteer coordinator.

Not a single call back.

I guess our local school districts, which are scrounging for money, don’t need free help from its community’s professionals, who by the way, pay property taxes to support education.

Walter Cronkite had a volunteer high-school mentor.

Did you know that? I’m currently reading his autobiography. The man was a professional journalist in Walter’s community. He volunteered to teach and mentor the neighborhood high school kids once or twice a week.

Walter Cronkite, as we know him, would probably never have existed without this great volunteer.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Stand and Deliver?” It’s about the infamous math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who taught at-risk high school students calculus. Jaime, a Bolivian educator, came to Garfield High School from a computer factory, where he served as a star technician.

In today’s world of public education, neither Jaime nor Walter’s mentor would have made it to the classroom. No one would have bothered to call them back.

Yes, I’m angry! And you should be, too.

What happened to this country’s appreciation for volunteers? When did it become so HARD to help, for free, in your community? When did we become so selfish, that we think only to use our communties as resources–to better ourselves?

I come from a family of teachers. My mother was a teacher, my father was a teacher. My boyfriend’s mother is a teacher. I have cousins who are teachers. It runs in my blood. And yet, I cannot get involved.

Is anyone else seeing what’s happening here?

Yes, perhaps there are many reasons why I haven’t gotten a call back. But after leaving multiple messages for multiple people, I think the message is clear. They don’t want my help. Because to them, it’s not about the kids.

This makes me wonder, what other opportunities are being denied to our youth in the public school system? Who else have they not called back?

I’m not a parent. So I urge every parent out there to find out. Ask questions. Because apparently, it’s no longer the American way to step up and volunteer for your community’s youth.

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6 thoughts on “What Happened to the Need for Volunteers?

  1. I wonder if this lack of response is more a reflection of the turbulent economic times – i.e. Yes, what you’re offering is free but someone – an overworked teacher, likely – would have to coordinate with you, work with you, to make sure things are ‘legally’ OK … and when schools are struggling just to keep afloat, this volunteer assistance may be perceived more as “extra work.” I’m not saying it’s right, but since you’re from a family of teachers, I’m pretty sure you know just how overburdened and underpaid teachers are? (This is one reason why I didn’t use my teaching degree to teach sadly).

    I personally think what you’re offering is a fabulous opportunity.Have you considered offering similar services to a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters? I have been a part of the Valley’s BBBS since 2001, and I would think they would love to offer that opportunity to their students. Might be worth a shot? Another organization in which I mentored was AZ Quest for Kids. I’m pretty sure they’d be open to your help, too, as they assist underprivileged kids from poor families.

    Good luck, and glad to know selfless people like you exist!

    1. I’d actually decided that the Big Brothers Big Sisters, or the Boys and Girls Club, was going to be my next plan of action. Great suggestions, Melissa, and you bring up another very valid point (about the teachers seeing the volunteers as just extra work with organizing schedules and whatnot). Teachers are overworked, and that’s a very realistic possibility, too. I actually took the time to call an even more inner-city school, and I spoke with the prinicipal yesterday. He loved my idea and is ready to get moving. So, I think I’ll start there now. 🙂

  2. I completely agree with you, I would be mad too. We always hear about how schools under budget for art, music, etc programs and yet when professionals are willing to volunteer, they have no time or the desire to “use” ( sorry for the word) them.

  3. I don’t blame you for being mad. But this really doesn’t surpise me — I’ve had two kids go through a public school system (not in Arizona) and I volunteered for a lot of things. Including being a “volunteer manager” at two schools. I saw this again and again. People (parents even) would have things they wanted to volunteer for and I’d pass their names along to the teachers that seemed like a good fit (e.g., a PhD in genetics wanted to come in and volunteer and I gave her name to 8th grade science teachers teaching genetics). Here’ the thing: NO ONE EVER CALLED these people! When I would follow up with teachers and administrators they said that it took too much time to match people with what they were interested in — instead teachers would rather see what needs came up and then request volunteers from me. To me they said it was a matter of their resource time…. do I believe it? I guess I’m not sure. So maybe your school system doesn’t have requests for dance teachers/mentors right now? That *might* explain what happened? Regardless, how incredibly rude (at the very least) to not get a call back, especially from the volunteer coordinator.

    Here’s my advice: please don’t give up! Watching how my own kids have interacted with mentors and been mentors themselves, all through high school and now in college — I’m so impressed with people who dedicate themselves, like you! Those kids need you. Maybe you should try once more? Maybe you won’t be able to help with dance right away but they must need volunteers for something….and certainly there must big sister opportunities.

    One other thought is that at the very beginning of the school year it sometimes takes time for things to get rolling…. just hoping that’s it…

    I hope this works out for you! And especially for the kids!

    1. Thank you Julia, for that extrememly encouraging comment! I needed to hear that. I think even what you heard as a volunteer at your kids’ school is outrageous. Wow. I finally gave up on my local high school, and called another school–this one further in the inner city with even more at-risk students–and left a message with the principal. He called back the next day. We’ve been playing phone tag ever since, so I hope we connect soon!

      Bummer though, that my own neighborhood high school could be so rude.

C'mon, you MUST be thinking something.

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