In the non-profit world, the overwhelming sentiment is giving: giving from your heart, giving of your time, giving things away, and giving of your mind. Volunteers are a large part of some non-profits, and most certainly ours. We are constantly seeking ways to keep the work of our advocates in the forefront of the community’s mind. These particular volunteers advocate for abused/neglected children who have been removed from their homes in WV’s Eastern Panhandle. The job is fierce and filled with complexities. Lots of frustration. Lots of waiting. Lots of red tape. They have to work twice as hard to gain the respect of the other involved parties. Who came up with the notion that volunteer/unpaid = unintelligent? Isn’t that just silly? We have retired lawyers, doctors, social workers, business owners to name a few types of volunteers who come through our doors here. They subject themselves to a rigorous pre-service training – often emotionally draining and taxing. They come back at least 4 times a year, in the evenings and on the weekends for yet more training. They wait for endless amounts of time for hearings. They wait for responses to their emails which often never come. Their CASA children are often dismissive, and yet they still keep going back, refusing to give up on them. They are selfless. CASA would not exist without volunteers; they are the heart of the organization…..or at least part of it……
I happen to see what goes on behind the scenes with CASA staff. They are no less dedicated than the volunteers working with the children. This overwhelming sentiment occurred to me unexpectedly one day as I saw my colleague breathlessly race in from being in court all morning. His lunch, in a brown paper bag from a local drive-thru sat on his desk unopened as he hurried to the bathroom. Upon his return, I noticed his still unopened lunch as he was preparing to leave again for court in another county. I pointed out that he hadn’t eaten his lunch, and asked him if planned to eat it on the way to court. He responded in the affirmative. It was at that moment that my attention temporarily shifted away from the volunteers to the staff – what they really do.
I have worked here since late 2006. The organization has been through many changes, growing pains, and some scary moments where we did not know if we may cease to operate due to the unavoidable pitfalls all non-profits experience at one time or another. One thing I can say is that our current staff family unequivocally cares about what they do here. I have seen every single staff member have their child in the office at some point. We don’t think twice about bringing our children so that we can finish our tasks. Staff recognizes the important and often undervalued work of our advocates, and work that much harder to ensure they have the support they need to successfully do their jobs. If that means eating out of our laps, we will do that. If that means adjusting our schedules so that we can return and submit a report for an upcoming hearing, we will do that. If that means incorporating our children into a weekend event, we will do that. If that means we sometimes ignore our own comfort and convenience, we will do that - without ever thinking twice about it.
I don’t point these things out to take anything away from the good works of our volunteers; I would NEVER do that. But as I previously mentioned, I have worked here since 2006, and I do not believe any focus has ever been placed on the hard work of the staff. And the work here IS hard. Gratifying of course, but hard. All of us have pieces of ourselves woven through the very fabric of the organization, the cases, the advocates, the children – our work. It is taxing work on a good day. On a bad day? We may witness each other’s tears, frustration, and the overwhelming emotions that often accompany this type of work. So as I sit here thinking about my co-worker’s uneaten, brown bag lunch, I thought it was about time we recognize our staff for the incredibly AMAZING, dedicated and caring people they are. I have often said one of the best things about this job has been the opportunity to work with such a wide range of stellar people who are the heartbeat of our organization – our ADVOCATES. Today, however, I thought I’d point out how lucky I feel to have had the opportunity to work with the stellar people who are the lifeblood of the advocates – our STAFF.