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When *getting* gifts has been an issue

Posted by Racer on June 26, 2004, at 4:53:19

In reply to Re: Yikes, are gifts really a boundary issue?, posted by Believe on June 25, 2004, at 23:22:15

My first example involves the first non-profit I was involved with. I was both on the board and in the trenches -- we were running on such a short budget we defined the phrase "working board." (Our board members were required to perform a minimum number of hours each year volunteering for our program, as well, which I've always thought was a great policy for any org that has volunteers.) The first time I sat through the volunteer training, and the issue of gifts from clients came up, I was thinking, "oh, how silly, never be an issue." I continued to think that every time I gave the training, too. The training did explain why we were never allowed to accept any form of gift and suggested a few ways to deflect them, but I'd never seen it on my own sites, so didn't think it was really an issue. Then, one year, during my volunteer time, I had just finished with a client who was both excited that she wouldn't be back because of a new job that meant she'd no longer need us and no longer qualify for our services (special blessings for that employer, who did hire a lot of our clients away from us with excellent wages, training and benefits), but she was also sad since she'd been coming to us for years and knew and liked a lot of us. She was even someone I recognized, despite the limited contact I'd had with that site. When we were done, and I had congratulated her on her new position, and she had walked away, I got up to get a soda from the vending machine. I didn't notice her come up to me until she said, "Oh, please, let me buy that for you -- you've always been so nice to me!" It was a very difficult moment, because our rules really did have to be very strictly enforced on the subject, which was a matter of some discussion at board meetings, but I didn't want her to feel rejected by my saying no. I ended up doing that, "hey, it doesn't make any sense but THEY say we can't accept anything like that, I wouldn't be able to come back if any of THEM find out." It didn't feel good, although it did seem to work in that she didn't feel rejected by me. Our rules had to do with tax law, and because of a very specific policy of that agency regarding immigration status -- basically, don't ask, don't tell -- we were a little paranoid about investigations. (We were also providing a very similar service to a federal program which DID do immigration checks, so that fear was probably well founded.) Had anyone involved with our program ever been proven to have accepted even that thirty five cent soda from a client or former client, we'd have lost our non-profit status, some of our board could have ended up in jail or losing licenses. There are times when someone really may be unable and not unwilling to accept a gift, but not able to tell you why.

The second example is much easier -- the only time a student ever gave me a tangible gift was when a couple of Japanese boys gave me a little gift before going home to Japan. They'd only been with me a short time, I was a little uncomfortable, but knew it was well meant and I still have it. (A little pin with horses on it.) If they'd been staying here, though? That would have been uncomfortable for me -- would their feelings have been hurt if I didn't wear it often enough? If I wore it too often would they think it meant something? What's too often? What's not enough?

You know the things that students and clients did give me, though? MEMORIES, and those I cherish. (Oh, and the crafts projects the little girls from summer camp used to give me! I still have every single one ever given me, and mostly still remember every single shining little face that gave it to me. Remember that every time you wonder if your T will remember you, OK?) I remember a woman who came to her first computer class with me afraid to touch the keyboard without someone next to her for fear she'd break it -- the last class session I was worried because I could see her beckoning me and someone else grabbed me before I could get there. No fear, she had learned that she wouldn't break anything that couldn't be fixed willingly, and figured it all out on her own! Seeing how much that chuffed her? Priceless, and something I'll never forget.

I've just deleted a long paragraph, because I realized I could go on with these memories all night -- insomnia -- but they're all the same thing: sure, I got paid for what I did. Sure, the relationship was not one of equality. Whether you look at it as me providing a service for a wage, or bestowing a service on a client who did not have access to a For Profit alternative, or have some other view on the whole student/teacher thing -- the relationship itself was *always* personal.

Thank you and good night...




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