Requiem for a Volunteer

When you first volunteer to work with children, you feel like the reincarnation of Jesus. Look at me, the ever-busy, important social butterfly taking time out of my packed and full life to give back to youngins, to pass along what I’ve learned and to make a difference in their lives.


You imagine them being so moved that they go from the inner city projects to winning an Oscar and thanking you on that stage for changing the trajectory of their beforehand meaningless existence. Oh, what, huh, me? I’m no hero—just a man trying to make a difference. No, please, no need for a standing ovation. 


You think of the inevitable Lifetime movie made about you, though you secretly believe it may have HBO potential. You start to plan out the speeches you’ll give to their parents where you stick up for the child in the face of their abusive indifference: “Give them the chances you resent never having for yourself!”


Alright, we’ll tinker with that script, but it’ll be great.

Then, you show up for day one of this volunteer exercise and quickly have to search around the various crevices of your own asshole to pluck your head out from whence it was residing. You are reminded how ill-prepared you are and how little you have to offer.


And then you regret that these shits were born.


It honestly doesn’t matter where these kids come from, their background, their race, their age, or what program you’re volunteering through. They are children. Their job is to suck and to permanently lack control over their bladders.


And that’s when it hits you: Shit, I’m going to have to call Child Protective Services on a Tuesday.


When you start proofreading a middle school kid’s English assignment, you expect fanciful ideas about magical powers and other worlds that we as humans have yet to discover, all of that imaginary bullshit that helps kids that age deal with the trauma of acne growing everywhere (and let’s not forget about the hair popping up in every unwanted place.) But at least that’s what you expect going into it—magical bliss.


A few sentences into Juan’s two page paper, a nameless voice had called his child protagonist late at night without any explanation and said, “Meet me in the basement bowling alley in a few minutes.” Oh great—it seems like we’re on a spontaneous late-night adventure, until Juan’s character grabs a gun and stuffs  it into his sock. Here you give Juan a double take and try to soldier on through this literary landmine of disturbing imagery.


Next thing you know, Juan’s child protagonist has met a random in the bowling alley who gives him a list of people to kill before the night is out. When you question Juan about this task, he says “It’s a test of trust.”


You pray that this assignment was not supposed to be autobiographical.


Fortunately, children are easily distractible and he has changed the subject—time for 20 questions!


“Matt, are you married?” “You have red hair—do you know Ron Weasley?” “Are you into men? I think the sweater and glasses give it away.”


And then there are the weeks that you forgot you signed up to volunteer with the little shits. And you’ve already been drinking.


You try to regain order, but even the kids know they’re empty threats.


And for a brief moment, you think: maybe I’m not a good volunteer. Maybe I actually suck and I’m hurting their potential for growth.


And then one of them brings up a personal problem about their family life and you were not prepared for that mess.


As soon as you pull yourself together and think you’ve had your hallmark-inspirational-volunteer moment, two of the little nuggets get into a fight and you’re back to reality and you’re left to settle a dispute.


And then you realize: Wait, this is above my pay grade because my pay is zero. I’m outta here bitches.


You leave that class vowing never to sign up to volunteer with children again.


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