The first time I ever heard this word was when my mother noticed some plant that had taken root where it wasn't intended to be. She called it a volunteer. It wasn't a weed since it was something that grew in the garden but it was definitely out of place. We have volunteers in our garden, too. Sunflowers that grow where the birds have dropped them and tomatoes whose seeds have survived in the compost. For a long time that was what I thought a volunteer was.
If you did something that hadn't been asked of you, you were doing a good deed. No one that I knew would have said that they were volunteering. It wasn't the unpaid work that it is now. As a Brownie, I was expected to do a good deed every now and then. It would be something simple and unusual - like giving someone directions - because we had chores to do at home, too.
When I was in high school, I was a helper. I was thrilled to be asked to type up the pages that would go on the Gestetner mimeograph machine. First, I got to use the office typewriter - very cool. And, second, because it was fun to fix the mistakes. There was this nail polish-like stuff, a neon coral color, that just sealed the little hole the key had made and you could type over again.when it had dried. Loved that job. But I was doing the teacher's work for her. I was a volunteer.
In highschool, there were part time jobs for money and the homework, of course, but there was always some little thing to do. I taught Sunday School for a long time as did many high school kids - girls, mostly. Since I wanted to be a teacher this seemed like a good start. No one ever said we were doing anything unusual and certainly no one ever gave it a fancy name like volunteering. I also remember, vaguely, helping out as a scrutineer at an election when I was in university.
The real volunteering began when I was a stay-at-home Mom with kids in school. Then you could help stretch the school budget by baking, playground supervising, helping in the classroom, driving on field trips, and shelving books in the library. Back then, almost anything that you wanted to share with your kids' classes you could - until high school. Then it all stopped. Not cool.
I am still volunteering. It is fun and I am lucky enough to have the time. I get to do things and meet people that I would never otherwise know. My skills are tested and I even develop some new ones. Sometimes, things get very busy and I wonder why I'm doing it. And then something goes so very right that I know. I hope that I am contributing to my community. I know that the many volunteers that I work with make a great difference. My father was always busy in the community and that's the example I saw every day. He wasn't always a volunteer but it wasn't his day job, either.
One of my favorite sayings is "Bloom where you're planted". Like the sunflower. Like our volunteers.