Dorothy Balum has volunteered at Crosswalk in downtown Spokane for 22 years. In the first year, she’d drive home after spending the evening with the street teens, and by the time she reached the South Hill, “I felt like I was driving back into a whole different world.”
Every Monday evening, Balum along with Judi Conroy and Joyce Malone, chat with the teens, serve them dinner, listen to their stories. It’s a visual disconnect to see them in action. Here are three women who look like wise grandmas mingling with teens with tattoos, piercings and skateboards at the ready.
“I have experiences here that most of my friends don’t,” Malone said. “It’s something entirely different.”
The three women love their volunteer gigs. They’ve all put in 20-plus years at Crosswalk, a program of Volunteers of America. But not all volunteers are as lucky. Despite the proven physical and emotional health benefits of volunteering, some experiences don’t work out.
Sometimes, the “fit” is bad. Sometimes, volunteers feel either underused or overused. Sometimes, willing men and women don’t know how to find a volunteer assignment. Searching for the right volunteer commitment can be as intimidating as finding the perfect job.
This weekend, people looking for a volunteer gig are in luck. A volunteer fair will take place Sunday from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. More than a dozen social service agencies will provide information about their volunteer needs and opportunities.
And interested folks can also pick two agencies to get to know even better through 20-minute presentations. Picture a speed-dating exercise to find the best volunteer match.
For instance, animal lovers might want to hear more about SpokAnimal’s volunteer needs. People hoping to help feed the hungry can hear more about the Calvary Baptist Church Soup Kitchen. And those interested in working with refugees can learn more about what happens at Refugee and Immigration Services, a program of Catholic Charities Spokane.
It’s a free event, open to the public, but it’s not a drop-in thing. The organizers – One Peace, Many Paths and the Universal Compassion Movement – hope to put volunteering into a deeper context, so they are asking people to come for the entire “Compassion in Action” event.
Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye, a Buddhist monk who has been doing workshops in Spokane for a month, will be speaking there and connecting the dots between volunteering and community peace.
“So much of what gets in the way of peace is that we stay in our own little boxes where we feel safe,” said Joan Broeckling, co-director of One Peace, Many Paths. “When we step out of our boxes, that peace process begins.”
Organizers hope 100 new volunteers emerge from Sunday’s event.
And some among those hoped-for 100 will discover volunteer matches that endure for decades, just as the three Monday volunteers have discovered at Crosswalk. The women forget any of their own troubles to focus on the teens who need their time and attention.
“Just go for it,” advises Judi Conroy. “You get back much more than you give.”