Friday, May 27, 2016

Voluntary Weirdos

I've been working with Pathways/Senderos for 8 years (!) now, and I have a lifetime of stories. Working with kids, most of whom live in poverty, a lot of these stories can be heartbreaking. Many are heartwarming. Some are just plain silly or ridiculous. Some are stories about things our kids tell us about their lives at home or in school; some are things that occur at the Center. One day I'd love to compile the best stories for a book or movie or HBO Series or maybe just my own personal journal. 

With all these stories and experiences, I've learned how resilient kids can (and have to) be on a daily basis just to survive. They've taught me more than I've taught them etc etc pull your heartstrings yada yada. In all sincerity, I admire these kids.

Some of the strangest stories are from adults, though. As a non-profit program that serves kids, we have opportunities for volunteering and we have had many amazing volunteers. We are very appreciative of their dedication and hard work. They add an important element to our program. However, there have also been several...interesting volunteers. Individuals who should probably be working on their own issues before trying to help others. Yet even some of these volunteers have brought something positive to the table. 

Then there's the more, shall we say, problematic volunteers. Part of my job is recruiting volunteers, so I have to take partial credit/blame for the people who end up actually volunteering, but I can't be blamed for ALL of the weirdos who simply contact me about volunteering. 

The worst case of a volunteer gone wild occurred before I started working there so I can't be held responsible for that, either. A student from CCSU volunteered at the Center years back. Staff members always got a weird vibe from him, but he seemed harmless. One day he bugged out then left and never came back. Later, they saw a story in the news about a CCSU student who stabbed his girlfriend. It was him. 

So we stopped taking college volunteers for a while. We do background checks, but not every person with violent tendencies has a record, so there is always somewhat of a risk.

One of the strangest volunteers we've had since I started was a retired pediatrician. He seemed like a nice enough guy and he was well respected in the city. He wanted to give back to the community now that he was retired. He even offered to give our kids free physicals. That set off a little alarm in my head because although it sounds helpful, would it even be legal? And where would he do these physicals? At the Center? What would they entail? 

Turns out it didn't really matter, because he only came to the Center twice. He didn't exactly make a connection with our kids. We have a few elderly volunteers, so it's not the age that prevented him from making a connection. He just never made the required effort. He must have thought he made a decent connection with me though because after the second visit, I received an email from him. It was one of those chain emails explaining how all Muslims are evil and that Christians need to do something soon before Muslims take over the world. I replied (probably the only person in existence to actually reply to his emails) and told him that we are open to people of all different faiths. I also asked not to be included in any more email chains. He apologized and I never heard from him again. 

But we sure heard about him. A few years later he died amidst a sexual abuse scandal. Former patients were accusing him of molestation. The case is still ongoing. 

Those "free physicals" really took on a whole new, horrifying meaning. So, yeah. Trust your instincts, especially when it comes to the safety of kids. 

Then there was the most recent volunteer debacle. Potential volunteer. She didn't make it past the interview. She was an older woman, a former social worker with an interest in our program and lot of experience with kids. We communicated through email a few times and I asked her to come in. She was very pleasant. I gave her my 10 minute spiel about Pathways and volunteers, then I asked her to tell me more about herself. 

Literally ten seconds into her life story, she starts crying. 


I tell her its ok, take your time. I may come off as an unfeeling asshole on here (hell, I may even BE an unfeeling asshole) but I know how to at least act empathetic. When she finally composed herself, she told me how she's going through this horrible court case that has basically ruined her life. She needed to do community service. I told her that we normally don't accept volunteers if it's court ordered community service, but that I would at least hear her out. 

She explained that about a year earlier, she was driving with her mother. Someone was walking in the street ("probably drunk," she was sure to include) and he hit her. Now I was confused. So the pedestrian hit the car? And she somehow knew he was drunk? She claimed that at the time, she was very confused and unsure of what happened. When she got home and tried to help her mom out of the car, she couldn't open the passenger door. That's when she knew something was wrong. 

THAT'S when she knew? 

She said she must have blacked out. The cops eventually came to her house and she was arrested for leaving the scene of a crime. Now she was still dealing with the court case. "But," she said as she held back tears, "I just hope something good can finally come from all of this." I understand and appreciate that sentiment. We all make mistakes and deserve redemption and if we can make something positive out of a negative situation we should do all what we can to make it happen. 

But something was really off. There was a lot missing from the story. I told her we probably couldn't take her on because of our policy, but I'd talk to my superiors. She thanked me and left.

We immediately went online to check out her story. What I don't understand is how people think they can keep secrets in this day and age. I mean, there's this thing called Google. It's really great for finding information, especially if it's public information from court dockets and popular news sites. 

We easily found out the rest of her story. Not only did she leave the scene of the crime, she was drunk, and the guy she hit ended up dying. She was charged with a DUI and involuntary manslaughter. So, yeah, a little more serious than she let on. I didn't appreciate how she seemed to blame the guy for hitting her and claiming he was drunk when in fact, it was all her. I also didn't appreciate how she left all of that out of her story. But I really didn't appreciate how she didn't tell me ANY of this in our initial conversations. Not one mention of the court ordered community service. It wouldn't have mattered, we weren't taking her on with or without the lying, but at least I wouldn't have wasted my time. 

I'll stop here, but know that I could go on for another few thousand words just on our volunteers. I'll save the rest for the movie.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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