Over the years I've been approached numerous times by strangers who ask about my sight and how I manage to do as much as I do on my own. At first I was a bit surprised at others interest, but soon realized that most people were genuinely curious. I came to appreciate people actually asking rather than making erroneous assumptions. I also got quite good at giving succinct answers to their questions. I say this as a prelude to a recent experience and this cautionary tale....
This past May, I was on a city bus, coming home from my weekly grocery shopping at Superstore when I was approached by a senior. He came from further back on the bus, told me his first name and said he was hoping to become a volunteer with the CNIB. He wondered if he could ask me some questions about my vision, the CNIB and volunteering. He asked about my sight and how I managed. He asked how hard it was to do things like grocery shopping and errands.
I assured him that I was quite capable of doing things for myself and frankly enjoyed having the independence to do things on my own terms and time table. When he suggested that some things would be easier with a volunteer, I said that if I ever did need help, that I had several friends who were more than willing to help out with a heavier than usual shopping trip or assist in other areas if the need arose. There are other people with disabilities who need help much more than I do.
As for being a volunteer at the CNIB? I explained that other than an occasional purchase through the CNIB store, I rarely had contact with the agency anymore. I wasn't familiar with current staff or how volunteers were selected or trained.
Before I got off the bus, I asked if he was online and explained that I'd written a few posts about my vision loss and the CNIB over the years. He told me he wasn't online much - mostly just for email. I gave him one of my cards anyways and suggested he check out my blog.
Now, let me make this clear. I've handed out dozens of these cards over the years so that people can check out my Blog, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages. There is also an email address on the card specifically for random contact. Only a handful of people have actually sent me an email.
So, you can imagine my surprise when he sent me an email about 12 hours later - giving me his full name, address, phone number and offering to be my personal volunteer!!
Seriously? Had he heard nothing I'd said about my being independent?
He had seemed sincere on the bus that morning and asked all the typical questions. I'm usually quite good at reading people but somehow no alarm bells went off with this guy - until I got the email!
I waited a day, then responded politely, but firmly stating again that I had NO need for a volunteer. I said I hoped he would find a suitable volunteer position at some point - if not with the CNIB, then with any number of other agencies.
That should have been the end of it - but it wasn't.
The following morning, he sent another email. He wondered how I managed with grocery shopping in the winter. As he lived quite near the Superstore, he suggested that he could do some of my grocery shopping for me but thought I would probably want to shop for perishables myself. He could deliver it to me or meet at a neutral place close to me. Of course he added that we would have to discuss or make some arrangement for his seniors bus tickets but that I could think about his offer over the summer and he'd be in touch in a few months.
OMG! This guy has NO concept of the word NO! I chose to ignore that email and hoped that he'd forget about me. I should also note that over the next few weeks, I shared this story (in more detail) with several friends - all of whom agreed that this guy was an idiot with an agenda and potentially a borderline stalker!
Well, as you may have guessed by now, that wasn't the end. In early August, I received another email. He had been to a volunteer orientation at the CNIB but wasn't sure he wanted to continue as they seemed to think volunteers were some kind of employee! He was also waiting for his security background check to be completed. He asked again if I needed any help with groceries or other errands.
Over the next week, I carefully drafted a detailed response. The following is a slightly edited version:
"A background/security check has become a necessity for most organizations/businesses. Sadly, there are far too many people who will use any opportunity they can to take advantage of those who require services. The main difference between a volunteer and an employee is a pay-check. Either way, you are a representative of the organization you associate yourself with. Therefore, you are expected and required to behave in a respectful and responsible manner - following their guidelines and directives. Personally, if I WERE to ever need a volunteer, I wouldn't want anyone who hadn't been thoroughly checked and was fully compliant with the agencies policies.
As to your ongoing suggestion of my needing assistance with grocery shopping or other things?
It appears that you've failed to grasp that I have already told you twice (on the bus and in a previous email) that I DO NOT need any help. I have friends in my life who are more than willing to assist if I ever do need help. They would also not expect/want payment for gas/bus tickets either.
When one volunteers, there are ALMOST ALWAYS incidental expense involved. It is extremely rare to receive remuneration for a volunteer position. If finances are that tight for you, perhaps you should reconsider volunteering.
Then, there is the matter of payment for said groceries. I collect PC points on my groceries and often pay with my debit card. These factors alone would eliminate you from doing any of my shopping for me.
Grocery shopping is an art. It is also one that I take VERY seriously! I do all of my own cooking/baking and keep a well stocked pantry. I keep a running list of items I am low on, watch for sales and compare prices in online flyers every week. This allows me to buy items on sale and/or in multiples when there is a good deal. Some items, I am brand loyal and others I will switch out for certain alternative brands if they are cheaper than an advertised item. If an item is cheaper in multiples, or larger sizes I calculate whether or not I would use it all before it expires. I check all packaging for damage and expiry dates.
Seasonally? I stock up even more in spring and fall so that I'm not carrying as much in heat of summer or cold of winter. In winter, I layer up and use grips on my boots in icy conditions. Year round, I use my large ergonomic backpack to carry the heavier items. I also have insulated bags and reusable bags in varying sizes for bulky or more fragile items. With the backpack, I can easily carry 20 - 25 pounds of groceries in one trip and generally have at least one reusable bag in use with the backpack as well. I am my own Sherpa.
In any given grocery shop, approx 40-80% of my list is perishables such as produce. I am even more particular of these items than the grocery items.
Having you or anyone else do only non perishable shopping is useless.
I take pride and pleasure in doing my own grocery shopping. It allows me to get out, see what's new in stores and keep tabs on changing products and prices. It also keeps me in touch with many of the kind staff and customers that I've met at Superstore over the years. On the occasions that I have needed in-store assistance, I've never had an issue finding staff or another customer who is willing to offer me assistance in reading a label or finding an item.
So, as I hope you will FINALLY see, I have NO need for your "assistance" in ANY part of my life.
Please stop trying to find excuses to inject yourself into my life. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!"
It is only three weeks since I sent that reply and he hasn't responded. "IF" he is smart, he won't try to contact/speak to me again. It is rare that I have to go into such detail or be that direct with someone but I felt strongly that this was the only way that he might get the message that he wasn't going to be part of my life in any respect. I've also realized that this guy has obviously done this direct approach before. As I said, my radar for sensing crap/scams is pretty well honed but nothing jumped out till I got the first email.
He thought he'd found an easy mark but what he really ended up doing was marking himself. He crossed the wrong person when he continued to contact me.
That persistence concerned me. With that in mind, I contacted a couple of friends who volunteer for various organizations/agencies and asked them to touch base with their coordinators about how this guy operates. I explained my concerns that he may try to take advantage of someone who was naive or vulnerable. I can stand up for myself but not all people can. Without revealing names/agencies - I learned that at least 2 organizations already had notes in their volunteer data base about him. Though I wasn't able to confirm this next part, it is my understanding that he also has his own business and tries to make money off of people like this!
Having a business that helps others is one thing, but approaching people directly or through an agency in the guise of being a volunteer then expecting to be paid is underhanded and pathetic.
It takes all kinds! Thankfully, the vast majority of volunteers are there to truly help others - not to serve their own needs/agenda. Hopefully other agencies and individuals will see his scam and realize that he is a persona non grata.
Admittedly, somewhere (hopefully far) down the road, I may well need a volunteer but it sure as heck won't be someone like that! Until then, I will continue to be proudly independent with an occasional assist from store staff, a fellow customer or my amazing friends!