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Christine Burke Headshot

The Volunteer Pledge

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VOLUNTEER
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It's that time again.

The time of year when parents start humming "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," when Staples sells pencils for $0.06 and you can hear the collective groan of sun-tanned, sleep-deprived children across the country. The time of year when parents practically skip to the mailbox to find teacher assignments and when it becomes urgently apparent to children far and wide that they did not spend near enough time at pools, beaches, parties and movies. Wander into any Target in America and you will find cranky children and giddy moms buying Expo markers by the truckload.

Yep.

The Back To School Season has officially arrived.

Can I get a Hallelu-Holla, please?

While I will be the first mom to line up to toss my Julie The Cruise Director name tag out the window for Summer 2014, I have to admit, I'm harboring a tiny bit of reticence about the OTHER, lesser known, season that accompanies the beloved, time honored tradition of Back To School mania.

What's that season, you ask?

The Volunteer Season.

The time of year when Boy Scouts, football, Cub Scouts, basketball, Girl Scouts, cross country, PTA, volleyball, PTO, religious education, booster clubs and dance schools need all the help they can get. The time of year when parents are called upon to donate time, materials and money to the activities their children love. Organizations that can only survive through the kindness of volunteers beg of parents, teachers and community folk to pitch in and make this year "The Best Year Ever!" Backpacks come home laden with forms for bake sales, fund raisers, PTA activities and sports schedules that rival the NFL. Parents who are already stretched to the brink with work, child care and family demands feel pulled between doing their civic duty and crawling into their sweatpants on a Friday night.

Now, let's be clear: I'm not dreading The Volunteer Season because of the hard work involved. I'm not dreading the long evenings of event planning, late nights spent sending reminder emails or hours sitting at tedious meetings. I'm not dreading the hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and conversations I will have as the incoming PTA president. I won't bat an eyelash when the Lead Parent asks me to send in themed napkins, plates and organic, pre-wrapped snacks. When you have kids, volunteering is part of the deal. I get it and imma do my part to get down and dirty in the volunteering trenches.

Rather, I'm dreading The Volunteer Season because of the parents who make volunteering hard. The parents who judge, eye roll, and hrmmph their way through school activities because they are fairly certain they are God's gift to the Land of Volunteer. The parents who make me feel like my commitment is anything but genuine. The parents who question my ability to be in nine places at once. The parents who make themselves feel better by making me feel like giraffe poop.

Dreading it, I tell you. Because volunteering is hard enough as it is and giraffe poop is gross.

And so, I'm beseeching my fellow Volunteers to make a pledge. My pledge. The pledge I'm writing right here, right now, the week before school starts. Who's with me?

The Volunteer Pledge

1. As a parent volunteer, I pledge to always have the words "thank you," at the tip of my tongue. I pledge to use "thank you" copiously in front of teachers, principals and other parents. I will also say "I appreciate [fill in the blank]" because it's nice, it's the right thing to do and because gratitude will get you everywhere. If you are pledging, say it with me: THANNNNK YOU. See, feels good, right? Rolls right off the tongue. Imagine what it feels like to HEAR those words spoken to you?

2. When I am harried and running 15 minutes late to drop my child off at a volunteer sponsored event, I pledge to NEVER make those volunteers feel like I've been inconvenienced. I pledge to recognize that the volunteer busted her hump to get to a PTA activity night, religious education class or scout meeting just as hard as I did. He or she dashed out of work, scarfed dinner down and grabbed a child to head over to lead an event in which my child will participate. I pledge to recognize that the volunteer is enriching my child, doing me a favor and is giving of themselves. And, I will say "thank you" to the volunteer who chose NOT to put their sweatpants on and watch a rerun of The Sopranos.

3. I pledge to never meet a request for my time with an immediate analysis of how "busy" I am. Nothing makes you look more like a schmuck than running through a litany of "My time is so much more importants" and so I won't do it. If I can help you, I will. If I can't, I'll just say a polite no. Easy peasy. And don't bother running through your list with me, either. If you can't help me, just say, "Oh, I wish I could" and leave it at that. I don't need to hear about the 42 other things you have going on in your world. We are all busy. Period. Every last one of us. You are not busier than I am and vice-versa. Thank You for doing all that you do... do you see a pattern here?

4. If I am a volunteer in a position of power, i.e. Room Parent, Scout Leader or any position that requires you to entrust your child to me, I WILL NOT JUDGE YOU. Read that again: I WILL NOT JUDGE YOU. If you can't make it to a meeting, no judgement. If you forget to send in the pink napkins, we'll just use the paper towels in the classroom. If your kid is exhausted and wants to skip Scouts, I will applaud you and your pajamas. I will never email you to question your commitment, I will never speak poorly of you because you chose a family celebration over a PTA event. I will not judge you because I know you are working as hard as I am to keep juggling all the bowling pins in your world.

5. I pledge to never pick apart, second guess, trample or gossip about the way a volunteer runs an event. I pledge to support, applaud, appreciate and say "thank you" to the gal who organizes a school carnival, the dad who coaches a losing soccer team and the parent who holds the key to an organization's treasury. Because, at the end of the day, the people behind these events and jobs DO NOT GET PAID A DIME. They don't hear, "thank you," nearly enough. They are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task they've undertaken and to hear things like "Well, if I had been in charge, I would have..." or "Geez, she should have done..." or "Pfft. I'd NEVER have done it that way" diminishes their genuine volunteer spirit and good intentions. I pledge to try to put myself in a volunteer's shoes and to remember that the feet put in those shoes were weary before they even started. I pledge to remember you worked your a** off so that my kid could enjoy cotton candy while riding a pony and having his face painted.

So, if you are like me, headed into the dreaded Volunteer Season, I challenge you to raise your hand, take my pledge and demand those around you take it, too. I challenge you to change the face of volunteering one appreciative statement at a time. I challenge you to see the good in the people who volunteer and to marvel at the gifts everyone brings to your community table. And, bonus: I'm not even asking you to pour a bucket of ice water over your head and post the video evidence on Facebook. I'm only asking for the words THANK YOU....

Christine Burke blogs at Keeper of The Fruit Loops and is a coauthor in "I Just Want To Be Alone". When she's not on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, she's volunteering until it hurts....and she expects to say THANK YOU a lot this year as PTA President....