The stakes always seem a little higher for nonprofits during the holidays. Whether they’re heavily promoting opportunities for donors to give before the end of the year, trying to make the holidays special for every member of the community they serve, or addressing the needs of a vulnerable population as cold weather approaches, they often seem to be expending an exceptional amount of organizational energy around mid-December.
I think that completing my Volunteer Odyssey the week before Christmas and Hanukkah afforded me a unique experience. First, I was able to see several different Memphis organizations operating under the pressure that seems inevitably tied to anything having to do with the winter holidays. From making sure every child at the Carpenter Art Garden received a gift to ensuring that families at Snowy Nights had a magical experience, the staff and volunteers I encountered were committed to making this time of year special for those they served. While such commitment is frequently rewarding, it can also demand a lot of time and energy. That those who served these causes continued to do so tirelessly and even joyfully during such a hectic season speaks volumes about the both the organizations and their leadership.
I also felt a dual sense of purpose in volunteering during the holiday season. Of course, my primary goal was to serve the mission of the nonprofit I was partnered with each day. Additionally, I felt I could also serve by lightening the load of the staff and volunteers who were working alongside me- even just a little bit. From my own program management experience, I can recall wrestling with competing desires to plan and execute flawless events and initiatives while also wanting to celebrate and recharge with loved ones during this particular time of year. I truly learned what “many hands make light work” meant during my time in the Delta. My hope is that my few hours of service contributed to a more positive experience for those working for these organizations as much as those being served by them.
My week with Volunteer Odyssey ultimately resulted in two realizations. Until this point, I had been reflecting on the resolution I made 12 months earlier to move back to Memphis with increasing anxiety. While I won’t meet my self-imposed deadline, I have a renewed sense of optimism with which to reapproach this goal in 2017. This experience also reaffirmed my desire to build on the leadership skills and nonprofit experience I gained over the past seven years in the Delta. As much as I look forward to volunteering regularly once I am settled in Memphis, I also continue to feel the vocational call to work for a company or organization that is committed to increasing the quality of life for people in this city and throughout the Mid-South. Job hunting can leave a person fraught with self-doubt and frustration, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to gain perspective on my situation while serving others.