Jane Miles is all energy. Her bright blue eyes dance as she talks about her long volunteer career with Blumenthal Performing Arts. The former Associate Director at UNC Urban Institute describes her volunteer experience by comparing it with Maslow's Hierachy of Needs. "Just a few levels up from the most basic needs you'll see the need for socialization," she explains. "That's what volunteering initially gave me."
Sitting across from her at a bustling Panera in South Charlotte, it was easy to imagine Jane seeking out new opportunities to meet people. "I like to talk," she offered up with a smile, "and at Blumenthal I met people completely different than me." Clearly she viewed this as a good thing. "I got positive vibes all day, and I'd come home feeling like I'd helped." When I asked Jane for her primary reflection – her main take away - from her volunteer experience, her immediate response was, "I loved it." Then she paused and her gaze became even more direct. "Really, I did it for me."
All told, Jane spent about 18 years volunteering at Blumenthal Performing Arts, with a stint at Spirit Square before that. She didn’t start out intending to be a long term volunteer. It started as a way for Jane and her husband to volunteer together doing something they both enjoyed. The arts appealed to them. They would make an evening of it, meeting uptown after work and catching dinner and, in their roles as ushers at Spirit Square, a show. Slowly, once Blumenthal arrived on the scene and Jane’s love of their mission grew, opportunities presented themselves. She found herself helping with admin roles in the office. Eventually, the Human Resources assistant went on maternity leave and Jane found herself a full time member of the team - still volunteering - for almost three years.
So what advice can Jane give the rest of us about volunteering? She found a great fit early on. What if we try something and don’t like it? Jane's response was practical and prompt. "Don't expect it to be perfect on the first try," she said. "False starts are okay." Try it and if it doesn't fit, move on.
When you do find a good fit, jump in as much (or as little) as you like. After retiring, Jane’s volunteer hours went up. Way up. To some of us, volunteering full time doesn’t look much like the retirement of our dreams. But she disagrees. “Volunteering is not stressful,” she explained. Coming from an executive position to her volunteer role she enjoyed both the reduced stress and the chance to keep learning. “Go interact with people. Welcome the opportunity to learn new tricks.”
All good stuff, but perhaps the best advice I got from her during our time together was this: "Volunteer. You will be a happier person. At the end of the day you will have done something important. Just enjoy that experience." ---- Kimberly
Jane and John Miles (above)