Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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February 21, 2013

Goshen Chamber speaker: Voluntarism a way to transform lives

GOSHEN — People volunteer for all sorts of reasons and causes.

But before volunteering people should know two things: why they want to volunteer (their agenda) and what boundaries they want to set.

Adrienne Penner, education director for the Boys and Girls Club of Goshen, explained that knowing those two key items can make the difference between a good volunteer experience and a bad one. Penner, a recent transplant from Johannesburg, South Africa, spoke to attendees of the Women’s Business Network at Boscos Place in Goshen Wednesday.

Once a person has decided why they are volunteering — and there are a litany of reasons — that agenda needs to be communicated to the volunteering agency or organization, she said.

Penner told the story of a group of women who came to volunteer in Malawi. They brought with them 4,000 dresses for young girls. The dresses were made from pillow cases. It was winter in Malawi, so the dresses were too thin to wear right away.

Penner had to explain to the volunteers that if they were to distribute the dresses now, they would not be used for the girls because it was too cold and the Malawians would not keep them for another six months and would most likely use them for something else. Also, what would they give to the boys of the villages? she asked the volunteers. And the organization was trying to keep from giving handouts to villages, so it wouldn’t foster more dependency.

The women couldn’t move beyond their agenda of distributing the dresses and ended up not having a good experience, Penner said. Had the women let their agenda be known to the agency, they would have known that the dresses were not a fit for that particular group.

The Malawians were also upset because they disappointed the volunteers, and African hospitality frowns on disappointing foreign visitors.

However, when an agenda is known and communicated the experience can be fantastic, she said.

Penner’s positive story was a personal one for her. Five weeks before her wedding she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She wanted to call off the wedding but her fiance refused. So instead of a big wedding, the couple opted for a backyard barbecue wedding five days before her surgery.

Because she was under strict orders to do nothing stressful, Penner didn’t plan the wedding. Others took over and when Penner arrived to say her vows, she was surprised. Instead of a backyard barbecue, her wedding was in a church that had been donated with decorations and flowers that had been given by strangers. The reception was the same, with food being served to 300 by people the couple had never even met. And to top it off, a three-day honeymoon was also given to the couple.

The memory is still an emotional one for Penner.

People give their time, talents and resources for many reasons, she said. But when people give, it restores their humanity.

And it’s chronic volunteering where transformations occur, she said.

“Everyday moments allow for the big moments of transformation,” Penner said.

 

The Women’s Business Network is a monthly gathering of women facilitated by the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.

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