Sustainable Secrets

Having been active in volunteer work from the age of fifteen (or maybe younger) I thought I knew a lot about non-profits. I definitely knew a lot about empathy and generosity having worked with so many great organizations and leaders over the past fifteen years. This spirit of generosity I observed in my mentors is initially what compelled me to choose a Portland non -profit to work with when I moved here. What I never realized was how much I would learn about myself from the amazing volunteers and clients of The Cupcake Girls.
One of our underlying core values is “self-care.” In over fifteen years of volunteer work I’m not sure why I never heard this term before working with The Cupcake Girls. I had heard “burn out” plenty of times, and always been encouraged to simply push through difficult times. I had heard “boundaries,” but not often seen them so clearly set, communicated, and upheld by leaders. As most volunteers are generous with their time or emotional availability they are the least likely to practice, and the most in need of good self-care habits. How can any of us care for others if we are unhealthy, unhappy, or otherwise out of balance?
As an organization we have also noticed that many of our clients are extremely generous with their friends and loved ones, sometimes to the detriment of their own health. Many of our resource offerings are centered on helping our clients prioritize self-care through physical health, counseling, or attending support groups. In past years we have offered an industry “Spa Day”, but we have adjusted for this year and are excitedly planning a Wellness Day for our clients. We hope to see many of them there as we explore together how to best care for ourselves (and ultimately others) by finding balance.
According to Psychology Today, “Medical and mental health professionals pioneered the concept of self-care by prescribing healthy lifestyle changes and stress management behaviors.  Unfortunately, these prescriptions are often ignored because they require hard work and perseverance.” The staff and directors of The Cupcake Girls truly show how much they value their volunteers, themselves, and ultimately their work by practicing the difficult task of finding balance in healthy lifestyles not driven by stress. Being burnt out is just not acceptable as one of our volunteers. The same article offers some suggestions for practicing self-care: “exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, practicing yoga or meditation or relaxation techniques, abstaining from substance abuse, pursuing creative outlets, engaging in psychotherapy.” Self-care is also not self-indulgence – we all know that the pint of ice cream on the couch will probably lead to more stress in the long run and not better health. Lastly, self-care isn’t about being selfish and should never cause anyone to feel guilty. Your health is a high priority and deserves to be treated that way.
I’m so thankful for finally learning the secret to sustainable volunteer work, and I do try to practice it every day. While we can all do better of course, having the support system of this organization encourages me to grow as I search for that balance in my own life. How do you practice self-care? If you aren’t sure how to start you can ask a Cupcake Girls volunteer.
Melissa Blount
Portland’s Operations Branch “Wizard”