My name is Ellen Campbell and I am an institutional junkie.  I come by it naturally; my mother, at 91, is currently serving what must be at least her fifth, and possibly tenth, term on her local church board.

You’d have thought, after 24 years as an executive at two different charitable organizations, the YWCA and the Canadian Unitarian Council, I’d be ready for some other type of activity—needlework, perhaps, or learning Sanskrit, or playing bridge.  And it’s true that for the first year of my retirement I didn’t do much besides read, clean out drawers, and nag Doug about the stacks of papers on every available surface in our apartment.  But here I am now, on two boards and a committee, doing much the same kind of work as a volunteer that I did so long for pay.

What is it that draws some of us, like moths to a flame, to activity that many people think is as appealing as a root canal?

Is it the three day meetings, the business broken up by meals and coffee breaks during which we often talk about the same things we’ve been dealing with formally in the meetings?

Is it the reams of paper we get in the mail to read, which usually end up in one of those stacks?

Is it the opportunity to function by arcane rules of order, develop complex "mandates" and strategic plans?

Well, yes and no.  Some of my closest friendships have developed as I worked with people to build strong organizations—at those long board meetings.  Those piles of paper document significant and meaningful work.  And those arcane rules and mandates and plans provide orderly ways for people to make decisions and to have impact on the community around them.

But what it comes down to is that I really love to work as part of an organization that is doing worthwhile work.  Working with others to dream dreams and then find ways of making them real, seeing change—often slow, but perceptible—drawing new people in and re-involving people from the past—these are the kind of things that make me feel that life is worth living.

Will I still be an institutional junkie at 91?  Who knows?  But I’m not ready to quit cold turkey now—or for a long time to come.