The trouble with volunteering is that organizations are paying you nothing, so they often value your time as worth nothing—and treat you accordingly.
When my wife first retired, she volunteered for data entry work in her church’s office, one day a week. But when she arrived, she would often be told, “Oh, I forgot this was the day you come in. But since you are here, you can put these files in order (or some other low-priority task) .” If she was being paid, she would have a definite assignment, and no one would forget.
That is not true at Longwood Gardens where, in some circles, they are known as much for their outstanding volunteer program as they are for flowers.
Longwood Gardens values the volunteers’ time and rewards us with perks. We are treated as employees. (If a sign says, “Employees Only,” that includes us.) We can park in the employees parking lot. We can jump the line waiting to get into the cafeteria (although I never do, in gratitude to the paying visitors). The paid employees constantly thank us for coming in, and the visitors are obviously grateful for the help we give them. They shake our hand as they leave; they often take our photo. One woman told me, “I show your picture to all my friends in Beijing!” Where else can a retiree get such grateful attention? Longwood Gardens is a great place to volunteer, a sure boost to anyone’s ego. The attitude of everyone—guests, staff, and fellow volunteers—is cheerful, positive, and uplifting.
The volunteer schedule is kept on the Longwood Gardens website, where we can sign up for any open shift (usually 3.5 hours) whenever it suits us. We are not tied to a particular time each week. If we have conflicting plans of our own, we do not have to find a replacement. We just don’t sign up. If an illness, or some other last-minute problem comes up, a simple email to another volunteer who has the authority to change the schedule is all it takes, no questions asked. If we have trouble walking to our post, a security vehicle will transport us.
A friend had been volunteering at another du Pont estate in our area. He was one of the docents who led groups of visitors through the museum. Those docents were kept in a back room and assigned in order as groups of visitors arrived. One snowy day last winter, no visitors were arriving, nor were any likely to, but the person in charge insisted the volunteers all stay, including my friend, just in case conditions changed. If they were being paid even minimum hourly wage, several would have been sent home hours ago.
My friend now volunteers at Longwood.