Inspire and Be Inspired: Volunteer
by Heather Ayris Burnell

Sure, inspiration is all around us, but it doesn’t hurt to give our inspiration arsenal a little boost. Going new places, having new experiences, and meeting new people are sure-fire ways to have ideas. How can we do these things without leaving on a long, expensive vacation?

By becoming a volunteer.

Don’t be fooled, the act of volunteering can be mutually beneficial. We certainly don’t have to limit ourselves, but since we’re picture book writers we might benefit most from volunteering at places we can interact with our audience–kids. Being around books doesn’t hurt either. There are two obvious places where we can volunteer: schools and libraries.

Schools are always in need of volunteers and right now cutbacks are making them even more appreciated. You might be able to help with the school’s reading program. My kid’s school has a HOSTS (Help One Student to Succeed) program where a mentor works with a child one on one for about forty-five minutes once a week. They read together, and it looks like they even have a good time.

School librarians might love some help with shelving books or perhaps could use a knowledgeable adult to help students find the type of book they’re looking for, whether it’s just for fun or for figuring out what books they are allowed to read according to their reading level. Major bonus: you will be surrounded by children’s books. Think of all the cover illustrations and back cover blurbs you will have the chance to take a look at!

Public libraries love volunteers too. Most have at least a weekly storytime for children. Volunteer to be a reader or an assistant. I know my library is always looking for more people to help with storytime. The Summer Reading Program is another fun kid’s program that your library might love help with.

Not feeling like interacting much? You can volunteer to shelve books or help with the book sale. I absolutely love shelving books, so many different books cross my path that may not have otherwise. As for book sales, they can be quiet events with lots of book sorting, but my fellow book sale workers and I have a running list of “The World’s Funniest Book Titles” that we add to every sale. Possible book sale bonuses: camaraderie and great book discussions.

Sure, writers can benefit from volunteering at other places like museums, art galleries, or wildlife preserves too. Find a place that appeals to you and give it a try. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have much time to spare, any little bit will be appreciated. Snippets of conversation, different points of view, fascinating or silly ideas, and looking at the world with the help of someone else’s perspective are all things we might be inspired by when volunteering.

If we go into it with our eyes, ears, and hearts open, we just might get back more than a good idea for a book.

Heather Ayris Burnell started volunteering at her local library because she was there all the time anyway. She has run the book sale, organized a storytelling festival, and put on an author fair, among other fun things. Her first picture book, Bedtime Monster (illustrated by Bonnie Adamson) comes out in 2010 from Raven Tree Press.