Wednesday, July 15, 2009

To Volunteer or Not to Volunteer

I don't want to sugarcoat the volunteering thing. It can be a lot of work and, once started, near impossible to wriggle out of.

I consider myself lucky that I had the marbles as far back as my early acting career to figure out that without real involvement in the world, I could easily end up living on Planet Mel. A state of mind less than conducive to creativity, and which could easily erase me from more than a few Christmas-card mailing lists.

Like all artists, actors need to nourish their souls, and volunteering can be a banquet. However, there are pitfalls. The most treacherous is one I like to call "the gratefulness trap."

One Christmas morning in a Pasadena park, I scooped mashed potatoes and stuffing onto paper plates. A California drizzle kept the air damp, but the lady next to me delivered a comment out the side of her mouth that chilled me more than the weather.

"They're not even smiling or saying thank you."

Yeah, well maybe if we were on the other side of this table, we'd be less than thrilled about getting our lunch this way too.

I didn't say anything at the time, but I did have to give myself a shake and remember that story many years later as I started into my first year of The Shakespeare Club.

I struggled as a first-timer with classroom chaos and, I too muttered out the side of my mouth, "Where's the gratefulness? Hey, I'm doing this for free, ya know!"

Yeah, well.

In the end, and to this very minute, I am the grateful one. It's my life that has changed. I have no doubt that these children are affected in a positive way and will always remember their time in The Shakespeare Club, but nothin', nothin' beats the kind of sleep I get at night because they continue to face challenges and take risks with me.

And that's a pretty sweet spoonful of sugar.

Here's an article I recommend on how volunteers can make a difference in schools. Bravo on them.
Struggling school gets a boost (Sandy Banks, LA Times)

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