In Volunteering - There are no small FISH!

Friends in Schools Helping (FISH) team coffee klatch.

Today's blog is a re-post of one I wrote for my local United Way to celebrate National Mentoring Month.  I am including it because, as those of us who work in schools know, volunteers are SO important, valued, and necessary in our work to ensure every student is successful.

Although it was a cold, rainy day, the volunteer mentors and administrative staff enjoyed warm conversation and bright ideas during our winter professional service event.   The dual-purpose event served as a social event in which we were able to enjoy hot coffee and glorious snacks while we thanked our dedicated FISH mentors as well as a training opportunity where participants learned helpful tips about how to deal with challenging student behaviors.

Area schools have benefited from JABA’s Friends in Schools Helping (FISH) program since its inception and it has grown to include over 100 volunteer mentors serving in the city of Charlottesville and surrounding counties.   Everyone who attended our recent “Coffee Klatch” shared “fish tales” (their favorites stories from FISH experiences) as they learned about strategies they could use in order to achieve even more success with the students they are helping. 

One story in particular illustrated powerfully that truly there are no “small” jobs and that every act of a volunteer mentor has the potential to deeply affect a child’s life and positively influence his or her educational experience.  One of our volunteer mentors, let’s call her “Sarah”, told of working with a particularly challenging student, let’s call him “Anthony”.  Sarah described her regular routine in working with Anthony and told us how difficult it was for her to determine whether she was actually making a difference or not because Anthony never spoke to her.  Turns out, he never spoke to anyone.  He was physically able to speak, he just chose not to.  During each visit, Sarah would help the teacher in various ways, including reading to Anthony, helping him complete classroom assignments, and working on math problems.  Every session Sarah spoke to Anthony and asked questions as needed; each time, Anthony responded, but never verbally. 

As Sarah spoke, we all found ourselves drawn in to her story, empathizing with the challenge and wondering what we would do if in a similar situation.  Just that week, Sarah told us, she and Anthony had a breakthrough!  It happened during the smallest of tasks:  she was helping Anthony to put his coat on in order to go outside for recess.  Since it was difficult for her to zip up his coat while she was facing him, she instead stood behind him and zipped him up that way.  When she came back around to face him, Anthony said simply, “thank you.”  SUCCESS!

In just such a way, we all learned that, when it comes to helping children, there are no small fish!

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Do you have volunteers in your school?  Have you served as a volunteer?  Write and tell me about your fish tales!


Jefferson Area Board of Aging site

The blog on the United Way's site


The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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