Can You Ever Fully Cure a Case Of Volunteeritis?

It has been about two years since Lisa and I first joined forces and ran our school’s annual car raffle. Last year I wrote a cautionary tale about our experience, and we think it is worth a reposting now. I am here to tell you a full year later that much of it still rings true.

What is Volunteeritis?

Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

• Always saying yes, even when you want to say no.

• Taking on too many projects at once.

• Neglecting your children under the guise of… “Aren’t I so great for doing all of this FOR you and your school/club/association/project?”

Back to school! Are we all settling in yet? Have the hours your child is in the classroom become the greatest part of your day? [Yes! -Lisa] Do you suddenly find yourself with some free time, and in the middle of it, realize you actually *gasp* miss your kids? If the answer to any or all of the above questions is yes, then you are the perfect audience for this column! [I *knew* it! -Lisa]




Prescription for Volunteeritis:
Take a nap and call me in the morning!



I have a feeling that you, like me, will soon find yourself at one or two upcoming Parents’ Nights, a scattering of PTA meetings, or a few Back-to-School events where you will be conveniently placed at some point in front of a table loaded with various sheets labeled “Parent Volunteer Requests.” Or if you are lucky, your school will have embraced technology and be using Volunteer Spot.

Some of these requests will be simple like, “Who can bring plastic-ware for the fall class party?” Some will be a little more involved like, “Who will be the class photographer for the holiday party?” And then there will be a few seemingly harmless requests in there that will *appear* doable (because this is how they will be presented to you) when in actuality they could wind up sucking the life out of you and additionally could have your husband and children considering whether or not you are really of vital importance to the family. [Don’t worry, you are. Dance leotards don’t wash themselves. -Lisa]

I am here today to offer a cautionary tale to help you steer clear of “volunteering” your life away, or at the very least, to let you know that you are not alone if you are already entrenched in one of these “doable” parent volunteering tasks.

I happen to be, despite how it might seem thus far, a fan of volunteering. One could say I am a bit of an eager beaver, a hard worker, or a go-getter, a personality trait that anyone running any type of project seems to be able to smell from a mile away. I am the perfect candidate for school-related tasks, because I am an involved mom who takes pride in my children’s schools and genuinely wants to be helpful. [aka– a sucker! -Lisa] I started slowly – when I got involved from day one at Emma’s school, it was under the heading “Bring Plastic-ware to Holiday Party” that I’d sign my name, but little by little, the projects I “agreed to” began to increase in size and scope, until last year I found myself co-chairing our school’s annual car raffle with Lisa.

Tickets in a basket

It was sold to both of us as a project that would take place mostly the following spring and as long as we were organized and prepared, it would pretty much run itself. Famous last words, right? [Yep. “This project runs itself” is the volunteer equivalent of “I’ve got a bridge to sell you” -Lisa] Strangely enough, we found ourselves at a car raffle meeting before school was even out … you know, like a solid nine months before we had been told we would have any work to do. You could say that was our fault, because we were eager to get some information ahead of the curve so we could be organized and prepared.

But here is the thing that we were not prepared for at all, not even a little bit: This little car raffle, the raffle that was supposed to run on auto-pilot? It did not even have an auto-pilot button, nor, it turned out, a working engine. Due to an unforeseen complication early on, we pretty much had to start at zero and revamp the entire process so that the raffle could actually raise money for the school. So no longer was this going to be only a spring project, but more likely one that required a fair amount of work in the fall, as well. No problem, though, because we stupidly kept thinking that the more organized we were, the more stuff we did early, the less there would be to do at the end.

Yeah … ummm, no.

It should be noted at this point that I am what some might consider a little on the, how do you say it gently, competitive side. So, when we took on this challenge, I pretty much told Lisa that I would do it with her, but ONLY if we agreed from the beginning that we would run the most successful car raffle the school had ever seen. She was all, “Yeah, I am sure it will be good, we can definitely make it a success,” but didn’t seem to get my level of intensity. [A few games of Scattergories later, I had a bit of an idea. -Lisa]

By the end, she definitely wished she had listened a little more carefully that day. So, our little car raffle, that was only going to require work in the spring, started the prior May (albeit briefly), got a little more involved by October (you know, the season called fall) and by January (yes, that would be WINTER) literally had us working on some aspect of it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

We gave up our Spring Break completely to stuff envelopes, print labels, and put together packets. [Thank you, corner booth at Panera Bread, for being our official Car Raffle headquarters. -Lisa] To our credit, we managed to throw an amazing kick-off pep rally for the raffle sales, which earned us plenty of kudos from the students and the staff, and honestly when you have worked that hard on something, it is quite personally gratifying to be told that you did a great job.

The closest we will ever come to being Oprah on her “Favorite Things” show was telling a gym full of school kids that by selling tickets they could win a gift certificate to Ben & Jerry’s! [The kids were actually even more excited than the Oprah audience below! Free Ben & Jerry’s definitely leads to hysteria the elementary school set! -Lisa] 

We then spent every single day of the following three weeks counting tickets, spending way too much of our own money at Starbucks [Our happiest place on earth -Lisa], passing out prizes, counting money, and checking and doubling checking spreadsheets … until the final week, which honestly culminated in so many tickets being turned in at once that we counted from 8:30am until 3:30pm, and then resumed from 8pm until 2am, only to begin again the next morning.

But in the end, we did it.

We did accomplish arguably the most successful car raffle in school history. We started and we finished. We had some fantastic help along the way, but really mostly, we had each other, and I cannot imagine having done it with anyone else. [Me either, friend! -Lisa]

Lisa and I both vowed it would be years before we would volunteer again. But much like “the mommy amnesia” that allows you to forget the trials of pregnancy and life with a newborn thus allowing you to have another baby, here we are two years later back on the volunteer scene. We both have a bi-weekly gig in the front office, we have both signed up for numerous party duties in the classroom, AND Lisa has even agreed to be a class parent for Lucy’s class. But we are out of the car raffle business. Permanently.





Can You Ever Fully Cure a Case Of Volunteeritis? — 24 Comments

    • You’ve come to the right place. You’ve got both a nurse and a doctor here on the case! We hereby prescribe a dose of “I’m so flattered you asked, but no thanks” just for you! It’s even a 90 day supply to get you through to the holidays!

    • Ha! No worries! Room mom is the best gig around. I’m sure you’ll love it! On top of that, you’ll be asking everyone *else* to sign the sign-up sheets! Well played! 😉

    • I know! I don’t remember having so many parties and celebrations back in the day. You got to make a popsicle ornament in art before you left for Christmas break and maybe got a Valentine’s Day card shoved in your desk in February if you were lucky. Kids don’t even know how good they have it now!

  1. As a teacher, I can say we appreciate parent volunteers, but as a parent, I can say I groan every time pre-school needs me to make a snack for all the kids or bring in a craft project. I’m too busy and tired. I can barely take care of my job, my children, and myself, let alone volunteer for anything. I can only imagine how exhausting it is when you get caught up in a huge volunteer project and can’t get out!

    • Oh, the craft projects! You are so right. They always need your child to bring in a shoe box for a diorama or some item nobody has on hand…and they always need it “tomorrow” (a fact that you always discover right before bedtime). Why do these projects always mean more work for the parents that for the children?

  2. {Melinda} Wow. I can relate to this. Church volunteering can often be the same way. I always multiply the time they tell me it’s going to take by 10 and then decide if I have that much time to devote to it. Volunteering is great, but somewhere along the line it’s easy to lose sight of why you even signed up in the first place! 🙂

  3. I have to say that you both did excellent work and it was much appreciated by all…even now the students talk about how your raffle was the best! I have to agree, although I guess I am biased.

    Congrats on another Volunteer filled year!

    oh and I’ve got this little project… can you all help with it? Shouldn’t take much more than a couple of hours of your time 😉

    • Very funny! 😉
      You were definitely one of the top volunteers on our committee, a distinction you deserve for wearing the school mascot uniform and waving at the kids in carpool line. That was your Oprah moment. You’re welcome! 🙂

  4. I used to do room mom stuff but I had a really, really hard time being on the parent side instead of the teacher side so now I only send in treats and I make sure I answer right away so it is juice boxes and not the veggie tray. 🙂

    • Juice boxes…napkins…little water bottles…check, check, and check. The veggie tray, enormous sheet cake or (and I kid you not, these are on our list sometimes) HAM BISCUITS…no, just no. 🙂

  5. Beware of the words “Don’t worry – we have a notebook to ‘help’ you” – if I hear THAT – I RUN in the opposite direction! Lesson learned …

  6. I definiteley took your advise this year and only signed up for what “I” really wanted to do! Mike is still a little upset with me….I “volunteered” to make a carved pumpkin for Grayson’s class (which means Mike will be doing the carving) and to speak about banking in Carter’s class, again Mike will be doing this one. Decided that volunteering as a couple would be more fun this year!!!! Looking forward to coffee with you next week!

    • Volunteering as a couple (especially when you won’t be the one responsible for the task) is the way to go! All the family credit with none of the hassle! GENIUS! Can’t wait to see you, too!

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