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mascot Sometimes, don’t you just wake up on an otherwise lovely morning and stare at the universe and ask why?
Last Monday, the start of volunteer appreciation week, I woke up with a cold. Not just a sniffle mind you, a full-blown, sore throat, low-grade fever, laryngitis cold. Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. So, what does a volunteer manager do when faced with issues that keep good people home? Yep, we walk it off and go to work. After all, the volunteers are counting on us, and we feel this deep responsibility to our organizations, our volunteers and our work. Lame, huh?
So, after fistfuls of cold medicine (pinks and whites, no blues, they put you out) I attended all the events planned. In between balloons I sipped cough syrup while greeting volunteers. At night, I went to bed at 8pm (with the kindly help of the blue pills) and hoped the next day would be better. But the human body is a funny thing, it requires rest while healing. And rest is to volunteer appreciation week as dieting is to the doughnut shop.
Now during that week, there’s one big event. It’s a luncheon at a hotel complete with cloth napkins and those huge claustrophobic banquet walls. You would think that a luncheon would be easy, but it’s not. There’s seating and lists of who’s coming and checking people in and parking issues and who’s eating what and special diet requests and greeting and finding their fellow volunteers so they can sit with them and hearing how bad traffic is and listening to ‘how about moving this thing closer to me’ and fussing over emeritus volunteers and making sure the speaker has the proper sound and smoothing over hurt feelings because we don’t have you on the list and admiring new dresses and ties and stopping to answer an inane question by a staff member who is attending (no offense, that’s mean I know, but really guys, can you not help?) and pressing staff members to get in there and mingle for cryin’ out loud, and making sure coffee is served quickly and intervening when the wrong food comes out and well, you know.
So, I have this thing; I guess it’s a reputation or myth or something. But I am the one expected to get the party started if you know what I mean.
Yeah, I’ve dressed up in costumes, done skits, sung (and I can’t sing, not a note), did break dancing and the riverdance, once did an entire improv skit on why Daffy Duck is smarter than Donald Duck, worn outrageous outfits, sat in a lazy boy while in the bed of a pickup truck tossing out flyers, (don’t ask), worn various colored wigs at events, and brought my rubber chicken purse for good measure. You know, you’ve done it too. (fess up). Well, I’ve got the dancing started in lunches past and the volunteers loved it so of course they want to dance this year too. “Oh no, no one else can start the dancing, we want the warm familiar feeling of Meridian starting the dancing.” (now, I’m picturing myself doing this when I’m like 80 and all the millennial volunteers whispering “what the heck, is that woman having a seizure, should we call 911?)
By this time, I’m having a coughing fit, the pills have worn off and my throat feels like the bottom of the pop corn maker at the movies. The trio that is entertaining has been playing soft background music during lunch when I see a volunteer sneak up to the keyboard player and whisper in her ear. The trio immediately launches into the beginnings of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Rollin on the River.” It is a slow, slow industrial build up and everyone is pointing at me. So, what am I, a good volunteer manager supposed to do? I slowly walk onto the floor, taking my rightful place in the universe and begin to sway to the iconic introduction. After a moment, I turn around and look at the keyboard player and playfully ask in a throaty voice, “Is this all you got?” She smiles at me wickedly and returns, “No way, but can you take it?”
“Bring it” I shoot back and turn to the room full of expectant volunteers. (what the heck am I doing, a voice says that sounds oddly like my dear departed mother. I should be home in bed).
There is a pause and then boom, the fast and furious Tina Turner version wafts over me to fill the room. As if a volunteer manager switch has been flipped, my legs are flying and I am whirling around and around on the dance floor. I’m oblivious to the crowd who is yelling. But heck, this is what I am supposed to do. This is what they have come to expect and within 30 seconds, they’ve flooded the dance floor, laughing and pointing at each other. Ah, they are having fun.
Even though my chest hurts and I know I will pay for this tomorrow or probably the rest of the week, I dance on. My uninhibited crazy dancing is more than just a wacko spectacle. It is my signal to them that we’re family, we’re comfortable with each other, that we can be our lunatic selves with each other. It’s also a subtle way to say, “take a chance, don’t be embarrassed, we don’t judge.
So, after volunteer appreciation week, here’s to all of you who work with volunteers, you, who got there at 5am to start decorating, you, who stayed up late making goodie bags, you, who carefully created posters and printed pictures, you, who drove miles to find the right balloons and you, who danced like lunatics.
Here’s to you, who find that this week’s work is bigger than you anticipated and to you, who are sore and maybe just beginning to feel that scratch in your throat. Let’s try to get some rest, and take care of ourselves, at least a bit. Let’s look at our weariness as a badge of courage or conviction or maybe just craziness. And perhaps that extra picture you decided to put on the poster meant everything to that one volunteer.
Then, see, it was all worth it.