In the wake of so many recent tragedies on a national and international level, it is easy for us all to feel hopelessness and despair – a frustration that things feel completely out of our control. Our problems are too big for a single individual to solve them, and we feel powerless to make our world a better place. Yet, as my favorite government educator, Sharon McMahon, says, “The antidote to despair is action.” When the weight of the world feels heavier than ever, I find that volunteerism is an effective means of taking action. Many of us are desperate for ways to see or provide hope, to make a positive difference in the world or our communities. While it may seem small, volunteering can provide a direct means for being the good and taking action where circumstances seem too big for us to have an impact. Companies can play a critical role in encouraging and providing the means for their employees to spend time volunteering.
Last summer, after months engrossed in research on the impact of the opioid epidemic on children entering the dependency system, I decided to become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program ensures that every child in the dependency system – in foster care, or otherwise involved in cases of abuse or neglect – has someone representing that child’s best interests and giving them a voice in the process. Each state has its own program, so volunteers work close to home. I know that my own child has the security of a safe, loving home with access to everything she needs; and I wanted to be able to help give that to others. I can’t make sure every kid in this country has the shelter, food, education, and affection that they need, but I can at least do this for some.
Anyone with compassion and commitment can be a Guardian ad Litem volunteer; all necessary training is provided after the volunteer screening process. But becoming a volunteer does require two indispensable resources: emotional strength and TIME. Along with the minimum requirement of monthly visits to each family assigned to a volunteer, GAL volunteers are expected to submit reports to the court, attend court hearings, and participate in meetings involving the attorneys and case managers working with the family. Volunteers often need to spend time interacting with a child’s school and functioning as a go-between among the many agencies involved to be sure the child gets all the services they need. Above all, the volunteer endeavors to make the child feel seen and heard; and this can be the hardest part of the job. It’s a significant commitment, and a commitment that is so much easier to make when you know your employer is behind you.
During the interview portion of my application process, I was asked how I expected to balance the time requirement of the GAL program while working full time and having my own child to care for. I was able to respond that my work is fairly flexible, and that my employer is understanding and accommodating of non-work priorities. I realized then, and I realize now, that this is remarkable.
While working for Infotech Consulting can mean demanding schedules and time-sensitive work, when I told my supervisor I was interested in becoming a GAL volunteer, she gave me her full support. In fact, she wrote one of my letters of recommendation. Infotech has allowed me to take an hour on an odd Thursday to attend court or to log off early on occasion to conduct a visit at the only time that works for the caregiver. On one occasion, I had a visit scheduled that was critical in order to submit a report to court; and a longer client meeting was scheduled to overlap with the visit. When I told my boss that I would need to leave the meeting early to make my visit happen, I was met with complete understanding, knowing that she trusted me to meet our client’s needs while still ensuring that I could provide necessary support to the children. Thanks to this supportive environment, I also had no reservations about being able to attend my first adoption ceremony as a GAL volunteer on a recent Tuesday morning, and I celebrated a happy ending for a baby and his new family.
Many companies profess a commitment to participating in and improving the communities in which they operate or serve. There is, however, an appreciable difference between encouraging employees to participate in one-off opportunities on weekends or after working hours, and providing an environment where employees can commit to an organization and remain consistently involved. The fact that Infotech has enabled my commitment to the GAL program and, critically, seen it as valuable work is, to me, the epitome of the company living its values: “Family first” and “treat people right.” By empowering employees to volunteer, Infotech shares its best resource – its people and our talents – to make lasting, positive change in the community.