Our Stories

How I Became the “Volunteer Type”

January 14, 2016 by Kinney Zalesne (Community)

I never thought I was the volunteer type. In my first year as a JPDS-NC parent, I went on a Kindergarten field trip, hoping to be an asset to the teachers, but I got completely exhausted by the presence of 35 five-year-olds. I figured that my volunteering days were over.
But the next year, Adina Kanefield called and asked if I’d interview and write up the bios of the three couples being honored at the Purim Ball. I had just co-written a book, and she thought this might be closer to my comfort zone. I thought it might be interesting to contribute something I was actually capable of.

The contrast in experience couldn’t have been more striking. The opportunity to write for JPDS-NC – even three-paragraph bios – made me feel like I could offer real value this time.

My JPDS-NC volunteer “engagements” spiraled up from there. I joined the Board because someone pointed out I had experience in strategic planning. I agreed to be VP for Advancement once I realized how similar fundraising was to client development, which I was increasingly doing at work. I agreed to chair the Board once I saw I could translate my (new-ish) managerial experience at Microsoft to board governance. With each level of engagement, I felt better about the contribution to JPDS-NC, and I grew my professional skills.

I sometimes think of the story Madeleine Albright tells about her own school volunteer work. She had taken a break from her job on the Hill to be a stay-at-home mom. She volunteered for Board service at the National Cathedral School and found it engaging and satisfying. One of her co-volunteers suggested she join him at the State Department. From there she launched her political career, and within several years she had risen to be Secretary of State. I can’t promise you a Cabinet position if you offer your time to JPDS-NC. But frankly, when you align people with their strengths, who knows what’s possible…? (And who’s to say there’s not a causal, cosmic link between Jack Lew’s helping found JPDS-NC and his becoming Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury?)

But the best part is what’s happened to my family. When I have to leave in the evening for a school meeting, my kids say, “Well, at least it’s for JPDS-NC.” Even more remarkable is that they – along with the kids of other Board members – have run in disproportionate numbers for the JPDS-NC Student Council. Leadership is contagious. L’dor v’dor!

So as you think about getting involved in JPDS-NC, find the way that builds on your strengths, whether they are strengths you gained at work, at home, or elsewhere. Make your volunteer work and the rest of your aspirations an upward spiral. It will make all the difference to the school, your work, and your family. And who knows, maybe a future President!