Why I Volunteer – and HOW I Do It

all of us together

For mother of three Terry Marotta, connecting her volunteering to her early career as an inner-city teacher was essential. Finding organizations whose missions matched her youthful goals felt instinctively right, something she recommends. Marotta works for two nonprofits devoted to diversity: A Better Chance, which identifies talented young people of color for study at top middle and secondary schools; and her town’s Multicultural Network, helping people build inclusive communities.

“As a high school English teacher in my twenties, I had had the chance to live out and uphold similar values to the ones these two boards cherish. In Room 334, we all listened with respect to one another, we learned to celebrate our differences, and before long got to [a point] where we were all really glad we had come to class each day.”

Marotta knew the nonprofits were a fit when she felt the same way she did as a young, ambitious teacher. Her feeling of purpose has been key to her success as a volunteer.

Many people are passionate about causes but unsure if they have the right skills. “Banish all such thinking!” Marotta urges. “Try to see if you can identify a couple of people—even just through social media—who work with the nonprofit. Ask what the joys and obligations are.”

Then, she says, observe how the group acts. Perhaps you can sit in on a meeting. Get a sense of the organization’s tenor. Just visiting the group’s Facebook page may help you see how members interact.

Most of all, Marotta says, consider your legacy when joining a group.

“How do I know that ‘my’ work will live on? It sounds corny but I think I know it because of something that Mother Teresa said: ‘All that is not given away is lost.’ So give it away, your time and your love and your attention, and you will never be sorry, because the people you have given these things to will in time give away their own store of them,” she advises.

Of course, volunteering can be taxing, especially with family pressures. Marotta worked  with  the Winchester (MA) Chapter of  A Better Chance for ten years when she was young, then took two decades off before returning. When she did, Marotta says, “I was a different person with a new ability to laugh, to survive setbacks, to keep things in perspective.” Now, she says, “I have much better boundaries. I know how to practice self-care. What I give, I give with a full heart.” Make sure you have the time and the energy to devote yourself to your chosen cause, so when you give, it’s without resentment or pressure. When this is the case, the gratitude—for both the volunteer and the recipient—is immeasurable.

“I’ve seen this again and again,” says Marotta. “There is almost no greater force for good than the power of careful attention to another person.”

So thanks Kara. Thanks for helping me say what I deeply believe. And thanks to my fellow board members on the Network for helping me stay mindful of the many good reasons I do any kind of volunteer work. I’m a lucky girl.



Farewell August Rose

diana youngToday, one day following the anniversary of Diana’s death, I wonder how we cannot feel compassion for her, as she tried to do what was called upon her to do as a member of the Royal Family, whose burdens are so formidable! In The Diana Chronicles, her meticulously researched 2007 biography, Tina Brown writes that for us to even imagine what it might be like to be in the Royal Family we should think of the worst aspects of our own jobs and then just do just the parts that bore us the most…

Year after year…

With no possibility of retirement.

Girl of 20 that she was, she could not have known what she was in for until after she marched down that aisle, Brown writes; could never have imagined ahead of time what Brown calls “the oldness, the coldness, the deadness of Royal life, its muffled misogyny, its whispering silence, its stifling social round confronting sycophantic strangers.”  She must have felt plain marooned in those vast palaces, especially after her divorce, often dining alone in her room, her much-loved children off with their father.

Anyway I think about her at this time every year, in the days surrounding the anniversary of her passing, and about Mother Theresa too, who left this life just five days later:

Diana with her heart’s delicate roots ripped from its seated place in that Paris tunnel.

Mother Theresa, with the new revelation that at some point decades earlier her sure shining faith became infused with an all-too-human doubt.

I think also of Elvis alone in the bathroom at the time of his death.

And of course I think of our candle-in-the-wind Norma Jean Baker, simply Marilyn to the world, who, like Diana, was also just 36 when she died.

marilyn young

Her morgue photo shows her with her clean young hair still wet from the shower.

Maybe it’s odd that we probably all know that picture but anyone who has Internet connection can see it. Maybe it’s odd that so very many of us know and remember the details of these deaths. They are two of our deepest urges I think: to hold in memory, and to speak of what we remember. As billowing August rounds each year into its quieter sister month I light a candle to both.

And now, for yourself today these two lovely montages: First regarding Diana, with Elton John’s time-of-her-death adaptation of the song he initially wrote for Marilyn – that one is here – and the second of Marilyn herself, in all her sad beauty and vulnerability.



What You Need

Princess Diana is buried with the rosary beads Mother Teresa gave her when they met. That was a year or more before she was hunted down like the poor bunny by the ravening foxes.

She wasn’t religious as far as I know but she admired that little gnome of a Mother T, cruelly ‘outed’ after her death as a doubter like the rest of us.

And I totally see why Diana took to her. Mother Theresa was very blunt and most people like bluntness. She was also quick to dismiss what stuck her as trivial. I remember when she came here once to look in on one of the modest urban dwellings of her order of nuns, some good soul tried to give the house a few air conditioners. “We don’t need air conditioners!” she told them, swatting away the idea.

Sometimes when I’m feeling sorry for myself lately – with the stress of modern life and the insomnia that’s been driving my husband David crazy for the last six months- (I’m perfectly quiet on my side of the bed which is how he can tell, I guess: no deep breathing. “Stop being awake!” he says – and I TRY to stop. Lately we take turns with our insomnia. I finally get out of the bed and stun myself with a scalding bath. I climb back in – now it’s 3 am and I haven’t slept yet – and at 3:05 HE climbs out and goes down to his couch in the living room where he reads his endless whodunits ‘til sleep overtakes him at 4 or 4:30.) As I say lately when I’m feeling sorry for myself it comes into my head that I’m not in pain, not hungry, not unsafe – and all the rest falls away, thank God, thank God. It’s so tiresome to be self-involved.

One day I will give away all my possessions (maybe to my kids first if they even want them) and then I’ll give away my diaries. Smith College has graciously offered to accept and guard these volumes begun upon in 1958 when I was a little girl lying through my teeth on paper.

“Give them to Smith?! Give them to your children!” David says and maybe I will but what a painful and stinging thing it is to read your mother’s diaries (as I well know who have read all my mother’s going back to 1916 when she was a sad-faced uncertain girl not doing her homework and getting lousy marks in school.)

And yet I have her 1921 volume next to my bed and I read it before sleep sometimes and think “I am the only one who gets these references.”

I get them because when we were little our mother and aunt who raised my sister and me told and told – all the stories. All the non-stories. Everything. In the end when Mom was in ER after ER I would say to her “Let’s leave this place Mum. Let’s time travel” and out would come more stories.

It’s true we might not need air conditioners; but we sure do need that connection with the past.