The Long Arm of the Law

gavel and balance

I love my work. I am lucky to be one of two Program Coordinators for a great non profit organization that helps empower women, men, and young adults to become economically self sufficient by providing all the necessary tools for employment success such as professional clothing and accessories, mock interviews, computer classes, resume building classes, and other various employment workshops. Because we are a non profit we are a small staff of twelve and depend on the assistance of our community volunteers and college interns in order to offer those services at no cost to our clients. Without our volunteers we could not do all that we do to empower and assist our clients.

One of the many things I love about my jobs is the interaction I get with our volunteers and clients. I get to do the volunteer training and get to provide them with the tools they’ll need in order to be a successful and effective personal shopper to our clients. Because I started as an intern and then was hired as part of the staff, I try to provide helpful information on things that I felt helped me during my internship process and allowed me to have the most rewarding experience.

I often mention that while many of our clients are very thankful to be there getting assistance, we also have some clients who are not so happy to be there and that it is important for us to keep in mind that the reason they are there is because they are unemployed and having difficulty getting back on their feet and to keep in mind they are going through hardships in their life, things that we won’t always be able to unveil in our interaction with them during their personal shopping experience.

Today happened to be one of those days where we had a few clients that were decidedly not going to enjoy the experience there and give us some very sassy attitude back. And boy do I mean sassy, to the point we called in our Director of Programs for assistance and these ladies had no discrimination in throwing her the sassy attitude too. It was also a day filled with volunteers deciding they needed step by step assistance from us without much effort on their part and that we needed to solve any small issues for them, like difficulty finding a specific clothing size, and place the solution at their fingertips, or deciding they couldn’t find any projects to keep busy and we needed to provide them with a task.

I love my volunteers and I am so incredibly thankful for their assistance because like I said earlier, we truly could not do this without them, however, this lack of initiative and problem solving had been going on for quite a few days now. And if there is one thing that I like to empower them with during the volunteer training is ample suggestions of the countless projects that can be done should they ever find themselves with nothing to do. We even provide them with a list of 20 Boutique Related Projects to work on should they find themselves with nothing to do.

But today was filled with countless “what should I do”, “is there something I should do”, “I can’t find her size” or walking into the boutique and catching volunteers just standing around chatting while clothing needed to be put back or organized, racks needed to be put away, etc. And hey, my counterpart and I are only human, we were having a busy day too with an overflow of phone calls, referrals to process, messages to listen to (over 37) and call back, clients to sign up for workshops and initial appointments. It was not a good day for our volunteers to throw all efforts of initiative and problem solving out the window and just expect us to place the solutions in their hands. And as my very funny and rightfully frustrated counterpart stated “I am going to go off on them!” hahaha!! Hey, I’m human too and trust me, I was feeling the same thing, and I knew something needed to be done about this growing careless attitude among our volunteers, but just perhaps with a slightly more positive approach. No need to get all long arm of the law on them!

So I took a deep breath, walked into the boutique and saw the same two volunteers that had just been standing around a few minutes earlier still chatting and holding a rack that I figured would eventually end up in its proper place and said “When you gals are done putting that rack away I would like to see you and the rest of the volunteers that no longer have clients in the shoe department please (which was vacated)”. They instantly jumped at attention and answered ” yes of course!”

If there is one thing I feel I need growth in it’s confrontation or calling someone’s attention for something not so positive. I have been faced with many situations like this since working at this new job and I always get a little bit nervous and have to remind myself to breath so I don’t speak too fast. I knew I needed to get my message across to them, and yet not forget that they are there as volunteers/interns and how much we appreciate what they do. I mean they are volunteering their time for no pay. At the same time though, we are there to provide a certain type of service to our clients and in order to do that we need to work as a solid team and assist one another. Plus, I decidedly chose to have this conversation in a group setting because it would be something that would benefit each one of them and make them stronger as a group since most of them work the same shift week after week and that saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link is very true.

I could tell they were a bit concerned as I got ready to talk and, while I won’t write all the specific details of my conversation with them, some of the key things I pointed out was the fact that we are volunteer based and how much we appreciate their time and efforts and that one thing I emphasized with them during the training is that we believe in giving them the power to problem solve and also how important it is to have initiative. I reminded them that at the very back of the pamphlet we give them during training there is a page that states 20 Boutique Related Projects to reference should they ever find themselves ready to walk up to the front area and ask “is there something to do” and how it might be helpful if they tore that page out and carried it with them when they came in for their volunteer shift. I told them how having initiative and using their problem solving skills are tools that they will find they use over and over again in any job that they may be at or acquire in the future and that we only want to empower them during their experience with us. And I reminded them again that we are there to help them should their interaction with any client get difficult and to come seek our assistance when they sense any red flags, however, when it comes to having difficulty finding clothing items, I reminded them of the other three different places they can search in our processing center and gave them tips on what they could tell their clients while they had them wait a few minutes, like maybe having them move on to choosing their undergarment of choice since that could buy them a little time.

I thought the talk went really well and a few of them even thanked me for the group talk because they said they often just go by the book so it was nice to get some extra suggestions that they hadn’t thought of themselves. I really appreciated their honesty and that they could talk to me about this and I can totally understand this because not everyone is going to be strong when it comes to having initiative or problem solving skills and I believe what greater place to learn this than during their intern/volunteer experience. If just one of them one day finds this conversation helpful during a future place of employment or other area of life, I think that’s already a huge success right there!


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