Making Community Service Work in a Busy Life

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By: Wren Hudgins, Ph.D.

It would be easy to say that I didn’t plan my life in private practice very well.  I conducted it at a torrid pace that probably cheated my family and likely my community from time I might have otherwise been able to give.  Scars notwithstanding, my family survived it, but I arrived at retirement having done little for my community. Wanting to start “giving back”, I signed up as a Disaster Mental Health (DMH) volunteer with the American Red Cross (ARC).  Much later, I started working with King County Public Health in the Medical Reserve Corps, FEMA and then joined the Emergency Management Team for my own city of Issaquah.  This may sound like I was donating many hours a week, but the best aspect of volunteer work is that one can always say “no thanks” to any volunteer opportunity.  So the vol work can be managed to fit into any schedule and can expand or contract pretty easily, even on short notice.

Nearing retirement, some one suggested to me “say no to everything for six months”; advice calculated to allow time to survey the landscape of possibilities, volunteer and otherwise.  The idea was, I think, based on the notion that time would allow wise choices.  The key word here is “allow”.  Time doesn’t guarantee wise choices, but does allow them.  Since it is easy to say “no thanks”, one gravitates toward agencies and experiences that “work”.  One finds niches that both serve and feel rewarding.  Larger agencies like the ARC tend to have many possible niches in which to find one’s place, but there are downsides to consider.  Large organizations are not nimble or agile, and are less responsive to individual input.  Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?  Either way can be satisfying and helpful to the communities you serve.  For me, I thought that working in a small pond, it might have been possible to rise to a level of some importance, a level where I might not so easily be able to say “no thanks” and go off on that trip to some exotic place with my wife.  Not wanting to risk that, I chose the big pond.  The big pond has many choices for involvement within it, but it also carries frustrations. Large organizations can be sluggish and non responsive; there are inefficiencies; there is waiting.  These are choices one makes but can constantly re-evaluate and alter almost any time. There are good and interesting people in both big ponds and little. This business of community service is not just about helping others.  I think the people who are attracted to community service are interesting folks and one profits from being around them. There is learning to be had.

Making community service work financially is getting easier.  Many agencies require that we maintain our license and that requirement carries, of course, a financial outlay for continuing education and also for the license fee itself.  Then there is the matter of liability insurance.  For a few years I just paid these expenses, figuring that these fees were just the price of “doing business”.  Eventually I wondered if there wasn’t a better way, and I started inquiring.  As it turned out, it wasn’t difficult to get a better deal.  I was able to petition the Examining Board for an exemption from the requirement to meet continuing education requirements as long as I promised that I was doing no professional work for pay. (If you do this, keep a copy of the letter they send you because you’ll need to show it every three years upon renewal of your license.)  Then I found a program funded by the WA Dept. of Health (DOH) called the VRP (Volunteer Retired Providers) Program (vrp@wahealthcareaccessalliance.org  and www.healthcarealliance.org/volunteers).  Once again, if I promised to do no professional work for pay, they would pay for my license renewal.  The same VRP program offered professional malpractice coverage through Physician’s Insurance at no cost to me.  Some volunteer agencies, such as the ARC,  carry their own insurance coverage and you may not need outside coverage, but for others you will.  So, putting all the pieces together, I arrived at a place where I have a niche and can volunteer when the time works for me, at any of four different agencies, and do so at no cost at all.  All of this will work whether you want to offer one hour a week of service, or 40.  Agencies vary in terms of their requirement for holding a license.  Most seem to require a license but the ARC has loosened the requirement, saying that they will accept psychologists who no longer have a license but did have one within the prior five years.

So it is easier than ever to find a satisfying way to contribute to any community you’d like to help, to do so at not cost, and to fit the volunteering into the spaces you have available or want to make available in your life.

Wren Hudgins, Ph.D.
WSPA Past President

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