Is Volunteering Right for You?
Although the common belief is that anyone touched by diabetes should help push toward a cure, not everyone is up for it. Figuring out if you are and how you fit into the big picture will help make the experience positive all the way around.
Good Points to Ponder
Many parents and caregivers find reaching out and volunteering is a great way to surround themselves with people who know their plight and care about what is going on. No matter what organization you choose, you'll be entering a world where you don't have to translate medical jargon or explain what a high or low blood sugar is. That's a big benefit to volunteering, and one that makes it almost worth the while on its own.
A study by the Points of Light Foundation found that children of parents who volunteer find they have more respect for their parents and believe their parents care about the community.
But you can get much more than that. Caring for a child with diabetes can, at times, defeat you. There is no remission, no time when you can say, “There, I've fixed her.” For parents and caregivers, that feeling of treading water can be depressing. In volunteering, you can find a way to feel as though you're making progress.
Volunteering can show your child that you are doing all you can to help her reach a point where she can live diabetes-free. Not only can you win the respect of your child from doing good, you can remind her, when the chips are down, that you're doing everything you can to help her be cured.
Timing Is Everything
So diving in to volunteer can be a good choice for parents. It's a good idea, though, to think about the timing. Some caregivers are ready and willing from the day their child is diagnosed; more need a little time to get used to life with diabetes before taking on additional responsibilities. You don't want to commit yourself before you've moved somewhat past the initial process of grief and anger; nor do you want to let your volunteer work supersede your job as the parent of a child with diabetes.
A good rule for when to engage in volunteer activities is the “one-year cycle.” Once you've been through a full year since diagnosis and faced every holiday and special event like back to school and parties, you're ready to take the next step.
If you think you've got your feet on the ground and you're coping with the day-to-day challenges of diabetes, consider volunteering. Once you've chosen the group with the mission that best suits you, call the local office and ask how you can help.
Start Out Slowly
By starting out with a short, easy role, you can make sure you like the people and agree with the mission. In time, when and if you do agree, you can decide where you want to go in the group. At that time, treat it like a job: Talk to the leaders about how you think you'd fit and the “volunteer career path” you'd like to take. Don't be shy; the organization, if it's a good one, will want to match your expectations and desires.
Don't be afraid to try something new when volunteering. If you work in the media, the organization may naturally want to put you on PR assignments. That's fine if it's what you want. But if you've always wanted to try your hand at government relations or finances or fundraising, speak up. You are a valuable commodity and any good organization will work with you to match your skills with a job or jobs that intrigue you.
Good for Your Child?
Think of your children when jumping into volunteer opportunities as well because the situation can be both a help and a hindrance for them. Younger children, for the most part, get a big kick out of volunteering. For fundraisers like walks and galas, younger kids love the attention and party-like atmosphere. For advocacy issues, younger kids find visiting big-name politicians “cool” and interesting. For the most part, little kids are easy to bring along on any of these types of events.
As kids get older, it will be important to have their buy-in on anything you ask them to do and even anything you do in their name. It's their disease and their life, and while you as a parent want to do all you can to change their future, you need to consider their present life too.
When you look at getting involved, be sure to talk to your child about the benefits, not just long term (in other words, a cure) but short term, for him. Talk about community service hours and life experiences as well.
Older kids will be thinking about their college applications and community service hours for school and graduation. It's natural to suggest they take part in diabetes programs to gain an advantage in these areas, but make sure they don't mind. Some teens want to have one part of their life that has nothing to do with diabetes. If this describes your child, respect that and discuss what she is comfortable with you doing even if she chooses to step aside.
In every way you can, encourage your child to reap some benefits from his situation. Advocacy work can lead to an insider view of Washington and politics and can help a child build a network that comes in handy when it's time to apply to college. Fundraising events can be like parties for kids; a time to get together with all kinds of friends.
Can we celebrate diagnosis day?
Absolutely. A giant party/fundraiser each year around diagnosis day can be like another birthday, and a time for everyone to say to your child, “Good job this year.” Start the tradition now.
Involvement can also give your child something more powerful than experience and connections: It can give them hope. A child who sees firsthand that thousands of people are working to cure them knows deep down that the world truly cares—and that's worth every hour of volunteering you can add up.