The Value of Volunteering

In my last column I wrote about the benefits of a diverse membership at ATA to provide a wide variety of experience and skills that can help our members learn from each other. I also discussed the importance of having a strong crew at the helm of the Association to help guide us on a clear course to success. But the engine is what keeps the ship moving forward.

ATA is a big ship that runs on a huge number of volunteers. Although we have a small staff of 10 people at Headquarters who help run the operational aspects of ATA, the Association itself still runs on the energy of literally hundreds of volunteers. The Certification Program alone has over 150 volunteers serving as graders and committee members. There are also dozens and dozens of volunteers running other committees at ATA, not to mention the Division Leadership Councils who engage their own volunteers within each division to help with various programs and activities. Regarding ATA’s Annual Conference, consider the hundreds of individuals who donate their time and energy to share their expertise on a variety of subjects or to organize other events at the conference. As ATA continues to grow and expand its engagements, so does its need for additional volunteers.

But before you flip the page or return to your regularly scheduled work, consider how much volunteering not only benefits ATA, but the volunteers themselves and the work we do for the community.

Reach Out to Others

ATA’s divisions are considered to be the fertile field for volunteers and future leaders of the Association. But what attracts many people to the divisions is the ability to get out from behind their computers or their interpreting booths and start connecting with other individuals in the same profession. Divisions offer the ability to share stories and ideas via the division listserves and at conference events. Since the divisions are focused around various languages or subject areas, finding people with similar interests is easy. Many lasting friendships and partnerships are formed in the divisions. It’s where I got my beginning as a volunteer with the nascent Nordic Division.

Consensus through Committees

While ATA divisions tend to be focused inward, helping to develop connections among members, ATA committees focus on external policies and programs. The committees help to shape how ATA should approach the outside forces and opportunities that are facing the Association. Working on a committee provides members with the opportunity to carefully consider the intricacies of a particular issue and how it affects our Association and its members. It’s more than just the “what” of creating or running a program. It explores “how” a program should be run to maximize the benefit for ATA and its members. Committee members have the opportunity to learn the details of the particular issues on which they work. They also learn how to work with other committee members, staff members, and stakeholders to reach consensus and establish a plan and chart a course forward. It’s excellent negotiating and teamwork training.

Building a Future through the Board

As I’ve learned over the past year as president, and indeed in the past 5+ years as a Board member, Board work is perhaps the most challenging and the most rewarding. Much of this work involves closely examining a wide variety of issues with which Board members may be unfamiliar (which is why we rely on committees) and looking for easy opportunities or facing difficult choices. There is often a plethora of great ideas that get generated by the various committees, divisions, and individual members. However, the issue becomes one of figuring out which ones will be most beneficial and effective given the current volunteer resources, financial resources, and overall culture of ATA.

The ATA ship has a lot of moving parts. Working at the Board level provides insight into how all these parts fit together. Board members learn to see a bigger picture of the Association and its place within a sea of other associations and social forces at play. Board work provides members with true leadership skills, including the willingness to take risks, the ability to see another side, and, of course, exercise the duty to sacrifice your own vision for the greater good. These types of mental agility skills are what help ATA navigate the waters ahead.

Get Involved

So, when you hear the siren call for volunteers in your harbor and someone approaches you, consider all of the excitement, friends, and strength that you can gain from climbing aboard. 

1 Responses to "The Value of Volunteering"

  1. Giovanna Lester says:

    It is so nice to see this idea being revitalized!

    We did create a volunteer force as part of the ATA/American Red Cross Partnership, which was very active until after Katrina. The Partnership was an Interpreters Division project supported by Scott Brennan, actually. Some of the volunteers -members of the National Chapter, in DC- helped man the ARC Call Center in Falls Church, Va, during Hurricane Katrina. It was with sadness that I saw no support and the project die.

    The other volunteer project was the Interpreting Booklet. Another ID project, developed by volunteers from 2005-2008 when it was submitted for “production.” Again, the volunteers were not even thanked, let alone recognized. At least they are now mentioned on the ATA website, but the effort Scott Brennan and Marian Greenfield put forth to make sure the membership was involved in the Association through volunteering projects that involved also their communities, thus creating more visibility for the profession, has been largely ignored.

    I hope the Association is mature enough now to take this initiative forward, not only within ATA (as with the Interpreting Booklet published as “Interpreting Getting it Right”), but also outward towards our communities (as with the ATA/ARC Partnership).

    Giovanna Lester, CT
    ATIF President, 2011-2012; 2015
    ID Administrator 2006-2007
    ID Assistant Administrator, 2004-2005
    FLATA President 2001-2003

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