Thursday, October 13, 2011

Saying No

Today I quit my Thursday gig at the agency where I volunteer.  This was a big step for me, something I may not have done in the past.  Here's the story:

S.O.S. is going through some big changes as of October 1, due to new guidelines from their primary source of funding (the Feds?  I'm not sure, this is just a guess).  In the past, the doors to this agency were open M-F 10 to 6.  People in need of food could come in on Tuesdays, speak to a food counselor, and leave with some food, or a referral to get food elsewhere.  On the other four days of the week, people with housing problems could walk in and speak to a housing counselor.  As of October first, the agency can only facilitate walk-in counseling on Tuesdays for food.  Volunteers from the community who have completed the necessary 21 hours of training can work as food counselors on that day.  On the other days of the week, the door is locked, and people with housing needs must first call a phone number and speak with an intake counselor, who will give them an appointment to come back and speak with someone in person.

In the past, I believe, volunteers could work any day of the week doing either food or housing counseling with walk-ins.  As of October 1, volunteers can only work as greeters (receptionists) on M, W, Th, and F.  This is what I did last week.  Many people came to the door without appointments last week because they didn't know about the policy changes.  Some were looking for food, and had to be told to come back on a Tuesday (actually, before I found out about the hard and fast Tuesdays only rule, I was able to give food to a few hungry people, which made me happy.  Then I got busted and had to be more strict).  To those looking for help with housing I explained the new policy and gave them a card with the phone number on it that they had to call first (even though, secretly, the people who answer those phones are sitting at desks right upstairs).  I was only supposed to let someone in who had an appointment already (luckily, I also didn't know this right away, and I got to let a pregnant mommy in to use the bathroom :).

I was told during training that with a bachelor's degree I would be eligible to do the housing counseling that people without bachelor's degrees were no longer allowed to do, which is why I showed up last Thursday and again this week.  But the housing access coordinator I spoke with last week did not think I would be able to do that, although she promised to ask a higher power about my situation. 

I have been thinking all week about whether or not I still want to go in to the agency on Thursdays if I cannot do any counseling on those days.  I was leaning against going in.  Although it was nice to interact with the various people that showed up at the door last week, it was not a job that really needed to be done, since the door is locked and there is a sign on it explaining that they need to call the phone number first.  When there is no greeter working, things seem to work out just fine.  I do think it is nicer for someone to have a real person meet them at the door and explain the change, but at the same time, I am the mother of four little people and the wife of one tall person and there are many, many things that I could do with my Thursday mornings.  In the end I felt that, although volunteering on Thursdays as a greeter is a way of serving the community, I can do more important work for my own little family by using that time at home.

As I  mentioned in my last post, I am doing the depression group at the church for the next seven Tuesday mornings, but after that, I will be able to volunteer at S.O.S. for food day each week and do one-on-one counseling at that time.  In January I will take part in the 40 hours of training for volunteer crisis counselors at another local agency (Ozone House), and then I plan to work for them on my Thursday mornings. 

I had offered a ride this morning to my friend at S.O.S., an intern from Taiwan named C.C., so I went to see if they were going to let me do intake calls before making my final decision.  When I got in, the coordinator said there were no appointments until 12:30, and they would be in a meeting all morning, and left.  There was an intern in the greeter's office filing papers, one of the only tasks I had to do last week besides answering the door.  I felt awkward interrupting the meeting to speak with the coordinator about my situation, so I took on one last project.  Over a week ago a consumer accidentally left her binder and her bridge card (food stamps) at S.O.S.  When I asked about it last week, I was told to just keep it in the desk to see if she came to get it.  When I saw it still in the desk this morning, I decided to take action.  I opened the binder up to see if I could find any contact information.  I found an address on a prescription from a drug store, but no phone number.  I looked my mystery woman up online, and even called her pharmacy, but still no phone number.  So I took the binder out to my car and drove over to the address.  After knocking a few times on the door, a young woman answered.  It was my mystery woman's granddaughter, and she said her grandmother had been looking for her bridge card and didn't know where she'd left it.  Yay! Mission accomplished

I returned to S.O.S., pulled the coordinator out of her meeting, and let her know that I wouldn't be coming in on Thursdays any more unless I could do counseling.  She had spoken to her supervisor who told her that in spite of my bachelor's degree, they could not let me do phone intakes because they had to save those experiences for their interns.  So I said goodbye, and now I'm here at the library writing this post until it is time to pick up little Tater Tot from preschool.

I feel kind of uncomfortable with what I did today.  It seems a bit harsh, like when I told the graduate students at Eastern that I wouldn't be helping them with their TAT scoring any more.  But at the same time, I feel really good, because I made a decision about how I wanted to use my time, and then I acted on that decision in spite of the fact that I probably put out the person I had been helping.  In the past I would have been more likely to tell the people I was helping that I wasn't sure this was the best thing for me to be doing anymore and try to get them to tell me that I should stop and that they would be fine.  But people don't necessarily do that, and why should they?  They want what is best for them, and if I'm being super wishy-washy about it, why should they give me an easy out?  This time I did not ask for permission, I did not try to get them to give me an out, I just made my decision and let them know what it was.  In each case, the decision I made may have inconvenienced the people I was working with or made their lives a little harder (which is why it feels so uncomfortable to me), but it was the decision that felt best to me.  In each case, if I had continued on for fear of upsetting the other people, I would have felt angry and resentful about how I was using my time.  Now I feel free and happy.

Do you ever do things for other people at the expense of yourself and your little family because it seems too hard to say no to them?  Or have you found a good way of saying no even when it disappoints someone else?  How do you decide what you can do for others, and what you need to say no to?


LL said...

Oh, I struggle with this! (Saying no, not with your post - love the post and it seems well thought out and like you've made a good decision.) But I struggle. I always put on my smile and say "sure, no problem" and then hate myself (and the recipient of the favor) until I get the project finished. And other times I feel all stressed out about the thing I've agreed to do, but I also feel good about doing it, which helps me get through. I'm not sure how to figure out in advance which projects will feel good and meaningful and which will just be burdensome. I guess if I could figure that out, it would help me say yes to the right things and no to everything else.

When we found out we were moving, I just started saying no. I say, 'sorry, we're getting ready to move and I just can't take anything new on right now'. And it feels GREAT. I'm so happy to not have a million outside projects to work on every evening, I just take care of my family and then have a half hour to myself before bed.

I'm screwed after we move, though, because I won't have a good excuse anymore and without a good excuse, I'm just a girl who can't say no. I'm interested to hear how other people handle it. It sounds like you handled it beautifully!

Larry said...

Thanks Andrea for this very thoughtful post. I feel you did the right thing. I can see you know you did the right thing. Love, Dad

Suzanne said...

I have decided that when my family is the one paying the price more than I am, it's time to say no. I've also decided when doing a good thing keeps me from doing the best thing, ditto. Having said that I'm rotten at saying no.