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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Join the Paper Doll Volunteer Brigade

Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless.

~Sherry Anderson

Volunteering is on Paper Doll's mind more than usual this week. Perhaps it's because the college football season is pressing forward in earnest, and I live in Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Certainly, some of this preoccupation is because I'm helping more and more of my clients carve out time in their busy schedules to volunteer (on their own, or as projects with their families). In these uncertain economic times, more clients are seeking alternatives to conspicuous consumption and expensive entertainment, and there's something ineffably gratifying about using one's free time to help others.

And of course, last Friday, the eighth anniversary of September 11, 2001, was named the first National Day of Service and Remembrance. Ever since 9/11, people have begun spontaneous grassroots efforts to give tribute to lives lost that fateful day, especially the fallen first responders who gave so much of themselves, by echoing that brave service in any way possible, by giving back to the community.

No one person is well-suited for all volunteer opportunities, just as none of us are perfect for every career. For example, although deeply impressed with the work of Habitat for Humanity's home-building teams, Paper Doll knows her skills and her limitations. Let's just say you really wouldn't want to live in a house painted (let alone plumbed or spackled) by Paper Doll.

Volunteer jobs don't necessarily require a long-term commitment or even special training. In what Paper Doll considers the most heartwarming of volunteer gigs, baby cuddlers are needed by hospital neonatal units to provide nurturing physical contact to infants whose own families (due to illness, injury or distance) are unable to provide it.

To find volunteer opportunities near you, you can search any of the following sites by geographic area (zip code) and narrow your interests by category: working with children, the elderly or animals; improving education or the environment; building homes and providing food; teaching technology or mentoring aspiring students, etc.

  • All For Good not only helps you locate volunteer opportunities, but lets you sign in via popular social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, to help you share information and interests with friends and members of your network.
  • Create the Good, operated by the AARP, helps identify community and local volunteer opportunities, whether you have only "five minute or five hours" and offers ideas and resources for those who prefer to work outside of formal volunteer programs.
  • Volunteer Match helps non-profits and aspiring volunteers find their ideal matches.
  • Volunteers of America is a faith-based program with opportunities to serve in a variety of human service capacities.
We live in complicated, overwhelming times. Families and busy professionals seek the help of professional organizers to help carve even small sections of time to spend together, and Paper Doll would not presume to know what volunteer roles are right for her readers, but I'd like to share a few paper-related opportunities that caught my eye. Two require no more than minimal time, and all provide an intriguing way to be part of something larger than ourselves.


In this blog, we sometimes treat paper as a necessary annoyance in our lives, something we must file or act upon, but it's likely that many of us never stop to consider how hard it must be for some people to operate in a world where instructions and information are available only via paper that they cannot see.

Read This To Me is a special program that allows the blind and people with vision impairment to have printed documents read to them over the phone.

It's simple. Clients of the Read This To Me program fax documents (or anything else they need read aloud) directly to the program's toll-free fax number, 877-333-8848. (Special instructions are provided to help clients ease difficulties with the faxing process.) The program's clients will have already been set up to participate with cover pages including their first name and a callback (voice) phone number where they can be reached.

Clients can fax anything--legal documents, newspaper articles, handwritten notes, telephone bills, etc. The program then emails a PDF version of the faxed document to the volunteer reader, who then calls the client to read the document. The service is free to Read This To Me clients and available throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Volunteers need minimal training and need only meet a short list of requirements. To participate, you must:
  • Reside in the United States
  • Have access to a computer with a dependable Internet connection (Volunteers must have access to the internet while speaking with clients, so dial-up internet service is only acceptable if you have a second phone line, allowing you to be online and on the phone at the same time.)
  • Have Adobe Acrobat Reader or any other PDF viewer installed
  • Available time (five to ten minutes), several days each week, to place calls and read to clients.
  • A willingness and ability to make long-distance calls. As clients of the service may be located anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, volunteers will be paying their own applicable long-distance service charges.
To volunteer, fill out this online form, and you will be contacted with further details.

A related program is Recording for the Blind or Dyslexic. Volunteers for this national non-profit organization visit regional recording centers to use special computers, software and recording devices to produce audio books on CD or via downloadable media for use by blind and dyslexic students.

While all willing readers are needed, especially for texts for Kindergarten through 12th grade levels, RFB&D offers opportunities for readers to record materials that match their professional and educational areas of interests, including accounting, computer science, finance, foreign languages, and science and technical subjects.

All volunteers are trained by RFB&D's professional staff. Because this program involves complex readings in a variety of subjects, RFB&D's directors participate in the recording sessions, helping operate the recording equipment and offering ad hoc assistance. Once each recording is complete, digital audio editors review the recordings to gauge quality standards. The finished recordings are added to RFB&D's library of over half a million recorded texts. Last year, RFB&D volunteers' work contributed to the ability of 237,298 students with visual impairments, learning disabilities or other special needs to gain access to recorded educational material.

If you think you might be interested in training to participate as a Reading For the Blind or Dyslexic volunteer, start with this link, or email to receive further information.


ReportEZ is an intriguing volunteer program, run as part of a research project overseen by IBM, to help the post office improve efficiency and customer satisfaction. Yes, we all know the financial problems the U.S. Post Service has, are frustrated by the impending cancellation of one day of mail service, and hate paying increased postage costs. But that's not what this is about. This program is designed not only to help the mail run on time, but to improve a huge service that is not merely national in scope, but which runs on literally every street and in every community in the country.

Over 17,000 volunteer "reporters" are needed nationwide to participate in the Transit-Time Measurement System. According to IBM, "the purpose this [System] is to measure the total time, from the date of mailing to the date of delivery, for many different types of mail."

A volunteer reporter for either of the Transit-Time Measurement System panels simply needs to check his or her mail each day (for at least six months) and then notify (i.e., "report") via phone or web as to when when certain pieces of mail are delivered. It takes only a few minutes per day and requires no special training (but does require strict confidentially, so be vewwwwy quiet hunting wabbits...I mean, keep your status as a mail reporter under your hat).

Volunteer reporters participate in either of two panels:

1)The External First-Class (EXFC) Panel, which has been in operation for 19 years, focuses on First-Class mail. IBM sends test mail to volunteers to determine how quickly and accurately mail arrives at its expected destination. The test mail is designed to look like any other generic piece of mail so as not to arouse the suspicion of USPS staffers, just as food critics do not identify themselves to restaurant servers as reviewers, but behave as typical patrons. And yes, I'm sorry I couldn't find any volunteer opportunities for those who wanted to test the accuracy of restaurant menu descriptions!

As a volunteer on the EXFC panel, you'll need to open your mail on a daily basis. For those of you, like Paper Doll, who love getting mail, this is just neato-keen. For those who have a tendency to let mail pile up, the responsibility of your volunteer position might be just what you need to get in the habit of examining your mail every day. Test mail is only identifiable as such once you've opened the envelope and find IBM's test mail insert inside. The insert provides directions as to exactly how to report the date the test mail was received, which you'll be able to do via phone or internet. 

2)The new (since 2008) Scanner Panel has allowed the program to measure delivery speed and accuracy for mail types other than First Class. It requires somewhat more effort than the EXFC panel.

As a volunteer, you'll be sent a special USB handheld scanner (similar the kind you might have used to add inventory to a wedding or baby shower registry) to plug into your computer. Then, you will not only scan the barcodes on any test mail you receive, but also any personal mail you receive with an Intelligent Mail® barcode on it. That's the barcode you probably already see on mail you get from various businesses--look for little barcode lines appearing just above your name and address. It operates like a tracking number to tell the sender whether the mail is still en route, or if it has reached a final destination.

As if the warm fuzzy you get from volunteering weren't enough, mail "reporter" volunteers are rewarded for their time. Members of the EXFC panel occasionally receive gifts of postage stamps, and Scanner Panel members earn points which can be redeemed at various online merchants through the program's web site, similar to miles/points earned by using your credit cards.

So, if you watched Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood because you harbored a serious crush on Mr. McFeely , or even if you just like the idea of helping the U.S. Postal Service run a little more smoothly, volunteer by going to this ReportEZ page, clicking on the Enter As A Referral button and following instructions to confirm interest and eligibility.

I don't know anything about Sherry Anderson, author of the quote at the top of today's post, but I believe she's right. Readers, if and when you can volunteer--however...wherever...whenever...whatever, please do.  Your help is priceless.

posted on: 9/15/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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