Trends: Volunteers Gone Wild

Infighting! Back-stabbing! Meltdowns! In Philly these days, lending a helping hand isn’t what it used to be

Being told your ideas are crap, or that your (gratis) work just isn’t good enough, is another painful thorn under the Hermès belt of many a do-gooder. “I had an idea for expanding our membership,” says a volunteer for a neighborhood association in Bucks County, who worked for months on a presentation to the association’s board about how to better market the group. “So the day finally came when I made my case to the board, and a woman I’m good friends with stood up and said, ‘I just can’t support this idea. It doesn’t work at all.’ This was a friend, and she did this publicly to me.”

“And she’d been at our house the night before for a party,” adds the volunteer’s husband. “Let me tell you, she drank a lot of really expensive wine. And she ate a lot.”

Still, though, we want to help out. We want to be one of those superstars who can juggle work, get our laundry done, and find time to help with a school project. Inspired by a friend who’d volunteered at the Haverford School pumpkin sale last fall — I can still picture her, dwarfed by hundreds of huge pumpkins in a tractor shed at the school, diligently painting on jack-o’–lantern faces for days at a time — I wanted to help out at my stepson’s school. I wanted to be a Pumpkin Girl.

WHY ISN’T ANYONE buying the geraniums?
I wondered six months after the pumpkin fest, sitting outside my stepson’s school in a shed filled with plants. There weren’t any pumpkins, but this was a close approximation: It was the annual spring plant sale, with impatiens, fuchsias and begonias in full flower all around me. The geraniums were gorgeous, with their huge, robust balls of hot-pink flowers set amid glossy dark green leaves. You couldn’t miss them from your car as you drove by the shed (even though it was raining torrentially, which sort of obscured one’s vision).

And what about the petunias, with their velvety dark purple blooms? The herbs were fantastic, too — the rosemary and oregano bursting with heady scent and flavor. What you could do to a chicken with those herbs!