Volunteers Anyone? (Part 2)

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A few weeks ago, I shared some suggestions for adding people to your child's team. I decided to take myself up on some of those suggestions. I posted an online ad and I had a few info sessions. To give you some context, let me share a bit of my journey with getting volunteers over the past 7 years of running a home program.

I started my program several years ago with one paid college student. She did 10-12 hours in the playroom. I had just had Zachary and had no additional energy to expend getting anyone else. The following year, we got funding to have 20 hours of a special educator with Jay, so I advertised and filled those hours with 4 teachers. That was a good experience, but I found out that having funding isn't necessarily all I thought it would be. There are people who will take the position for the money, pretending to believe in the philosophy. Still, I had the opportunity to run a 30+ hour program, and did see huge gains in Jay's development.

Fast-forward a few more years and I still have one or at most 2 people volunteering, maybe . I was exhausted from the work of getting the funding for 20 hours and then screening the teachers, I decided not to do that anymore. So, here I was, a vision of a 40 hour program in my head, but feeling like it would never happen, my son would not improve the way he could and it's all my fault. The weight of bearing that responsibility was heavier than I could manage, so I dropped it. I dropped everything. I took a break from trying to get volunteers, from trying to run my program, from trying to help Jaedon, everything. That was my crisis of 2008. Or was it my opportunity?

It was a therapeutic 3 month rest and I recommend it to everyone. I took the opportunity to explore my beliefs about Jay, me, volunteers, life, mission. I let myself completely off the hook, stopped a lot of the self judgement and re-oriented myself in my life. Plus, with no therapists, volunteers, or anyone else coming to my home, I could just be a bum. No waking up in a panic wondering who was coming today and what I needed to do to be ready for them. The kids and I just had fun.

When we resumed our program, I started it again with 2 volunteers, but I felt wonderful, grateful and happy about the program. I was celebrating what we had, instead of constantly bemoaning what we didn't have. I also changed a fundamental belief. The old one was New Yorkers are selfish and don't want to volunteer. That one wasn't useful to me at all. Plus, I am a New Yorker, and I would want to volunteer. I don't think I'm that unique. There are 6 million people in the city. I would like 10. They must be out there. And since I wasn't so desperate for them, I could take my time to think about what strategies would be useful for me.

Two critical beliefs that I have developed are:
• Volunteering in my program would be an amazing experience for anyone. They get to work with me, get the value of my insight into autism and life. It cannot be compared with what they would learn in school. There is no $$ value that can be put on the worth of this experience. It's priceless!
• I have learnt so much from Jaedon. He is really the teacher. People in our program get to learn from the master himself. I offer an opportunity for them to grow in the ways I have grown. I'm Jaedon's manager, giving the right students access to his teachings!
These 2 beliefs have helped me think about the whole process of getting volunteers differently (especially in the context of me not feeling so desperate for them).

Persistently working at it a little at a time has given me a strategy that works for me. I post ads, have several filtering mechanisms so that only 20% of the responders get invited to an orientation. From the orientation, I pick the best one or 2 and invite them to my program. I also refer others to parents I know in the area. Yesterday I had my first team Jaedon meeting for the year. There were 8 people there. 5 of them were totally new, the results of my recruiting efforts since January. I might get to my desired 40 hours yet!
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