Ask the GAL: C'mon, men: Man up and volunteer!

December 5, 2012 

In the coming weeks, I will be inviting colleagues who either work directly with our Guardian ad Litem program or who are associated with organizations that share our common interest to talk about their experiences.

Helping me with this effort will be Paul Dain, who has been a volunteer advocating for children for 15 years and has chaired our volunteer recruitment committee since 2006. Since Paul is the one who helped develop the idea for this column, I have invited him to share his thoughts about volunteering. C'Mon Paul!

-- Pam Hindman

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Women in the United States volunteer at a higher rate than men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - 29 percent for women, 23 percent for men. In the Guardian ad Litem program in our 12th Judicial Circuit, women comprise 73 percent of our volunteers with men at 27 percent. At the same time our children are split about 50/50 male and female.

Does it matter if a man or woman is advocating for children? Probably not. Volunteers regardless of gender are equally capable of advocating for the best interests of children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

Why then are many organizations, including the Guardian ad Litem program, continually reaching out to recruit more men? The answers are important.

There are cases where men might be better suited to work with male children, especially those male children who come from particularly troubled homes, or homes where there is not a positive male role model. As there are some topics and issues girls are more open and willing to discuss with a woman, so are there subjects that boys may feel more comfortable discussing with a man. Most of us recognize the nature of these potential topics from our own life experiences. Additionally, organizations like ours benefit from the interaction and collaboration of a more gender diverse volunteer population.

Volunteers often meet

and discuss issues of mutual concern in informal meetings and during regularly scheduled and required programs of continued education. Men and women often bring unique insights and experiences when considering problems faced by boys and girls who through no fault of their own are thrust into the dependency system.

Sharing viewpoints and ideas among men and women in these types of settings can have a profound impact on how volunteers view the situations in which they see the children they represent.

At a time when repeated studies show that people who volunteer are happier, healthier, and live longer, why are men not volunteering at the same or higher rate than women? This is still more perplexing when considering the greater mortality rate of men. Could it be men are less giving with their free time? Do employment differences matter? Are men less empathetic to those in need of assistance? Do men see themselves as less qualified for various volunteer options? Do family responsibilities interfere with volunteering? Are there other reasons?

We would like to know your views on why men volunteer less than women and what might be done to change this dynamic. You as readers are invited to e-mail us your thoughts to be included in an upcoming column. E-mail your comments or questions to askthegal@12gal.org.

In the meantime, I ask men and women alike to think about the upcoming New Year and resolutions you might make. Remember you have the one gift that is truly priceless, the gift is you. You can give the gift of yourself to help make life better for other people. And men in particular, it is time to man up and step up to offer that special gift of yourself to those special kids who might benefit from your special caring.

Paul Dain, a retired American government teacher and educational consultant, has lived in Manatee County since 1997 and has been a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for the past 15 years. Email your questions or comments to askthegal@12gal.org or write to Pam Hindman, Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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