It didn't feel like a contest, really. It was a celebration. The school district was having a sit-down dinner to show their appreciation for all the parent volunteers who give so tirelessly to the students at all levels. Moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and some people from the community who saw a need and filled in, it was an acknowledgement of the village that it takes to make a great big machine like the one we're running keep running. When money needs to be raised or tables need to be moved or copies need to be made or kids need a partner to whom they can read, these are the people who pick up that slack in the line and hold it tight. I was pleased and happy to be attending this soiree with my wife, the president of my son's PTSA. She has made an avocation into what is at times a full time job, which is why we scoffed quietly to one another about the inscription on her certificate. The one that thanked her for spending "at least forty hours" volunteering in Oakland schools.
At least. Of course, we were sitting in a room full of people who don't really get that concept: at least. These are the folks who are showing up before school to help kids across the street. These are the ones who make sure that the baseball practice field doesn't get plowed under. These are the value added team members. And I wasn't there with my wife alone. The lady who runs my school's SSC was there, representing our weekly snack sale and monthly meetings that she ensures has a quorum. If someone had asked me to choose between my wife and the president of our SSC for volunteer of the year, I would have excused myself. As a teacher, I am pleased and happy for any extra adult hands in the mix. Some kind of help is what helping's all about. And yet, that is exactly what the powers that be at our school district did. There was a list of nominees for "Volunteer of the Year," and through some mix of math and science formulas known only to that select few, three winners were picked from that room full of enthusiastic supporters.
Sure, everyone got a T-shirt and a certificate, but only three received a trophy. The rest of us ate up our banquet-style chicken and drank our very sweet tea and left scratching our collective heads. If only my wife would have found some time to help individual kids with their science projects instead of making sure that checks were written to keep the science program alive. If only our SSC president would have been pulling aside a table to read to kids as she served them nachos and ice cream every Wednesday after school. If they would have known the criteria going in, would there have been more competition?
Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge the winners of those plastic crystal paperweights. On the contrary. They are completely worthy of our praise and our plastic. And the rest of the crowd, who searched for a seat in a room that didn't have enough seats or spaces at the table, who waited for the big announcement along with my wife and I? They made do, as volunteers do. They were patient and forgiving, and left without feeling discouraged. Most of them will be back next year, when I hope the powers that be have the good sense to give everyone a prize. For now, here's a round of applause for the ladies who I was rooting for, and everyone else in that room.