Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Dance of the Volunteer

My philosophy of volunteerism: If you're passionate and needed, step in. If someone can do what you do better than you, step away.

My belief: Opportunities abound. If I'm looking out for the cause and not for me, I'll be blessed with yet another great experience soon enough.

I've worked with non-profits my entire career and they are almost always dependent on volunteers. I've yet to make my first million so my contributions are usually "in kind."

Currently, I'm working on a training presentation for a collaborative of health care advocates, helping a theater with marketing and volunteer recruitment, dressing as a clown to promote the rodeo at special events, and continuing to cook, wash clothes and whatever at an AIDS hospice about once a month.

The hospice is having its annual fundraiser -- called Sing for Hope -- this weekend. Opera singers from across the country donate their talent and time to present two halves of a spectacular program at the Wortham Center, one of our premiere theaters. The first half is opera. The second half is show tunes ... sung by opera singers.

If you like opera, Sing for Hope is your ticket to Oz. If you're not into the high notes, you might want to check out somewhere over another rainbow. But if you like passionate people doing what they know how to do for a cause that needs them, this is the place to be.

Last night I watched rehearsal -- amazing. What Michael, a tenor, did with an accordion like instrument he held in his lap while singing mournfully "I've looked at life from both sides now" is sure to bring the house to their feet. This song touches you on every level as the truth of the words (especially when applied to the work we do at a hospice) melds with the artistry that is his voice.

Since I appreciate the talent required for opera but tend to lend more toward the show tune side of programming, I can't offer much more by way of teasing your for tonight's performance except to say that every minute will be wonderful.

Wonderful because they've stepped in. They are giving what they have. That's how the event came to be. A singer who had lost someone to the enemy we call AIDS knew she could put on a show and did. And a simple little affair has become a mega-event.

I became involved when it was moving out of smaller venues onto one of Houston's larger stages. Having served as a behind the scenes director at events for 1000 to 13,000, I mentioned that I would help backstage if needed. They pounced on the idea and for a few years, I worked with the artistic director, the talent, the hired stagehands and a group of my friends, willing to volunteer and we put on a show. Two years ago, with my paying job demanding more of my time, I called on a recruit who had an actual theater background and who loved opera to assist me. He was fantastic and I knew exactly what I had to do.

I stepped away. Sure I became a part of his team the next year, but this year, it's all his. And last night at that rehearsal, I was proud of what I saw on stage and even prouder of what I knew was happening behind the curtain.

Don't hear me saying I'm done with this. Not in the least. I loved it last night when my transportation responsibilities meant I got to take Michael back to his hotel and I loved it even more when he emerged from the stage entrance and, seeing the top down on the Beetle, asked with a huge grin, "Are you my ride?" The sweetness of giving him just a small thank you for what he was doing was not lost on me.

I'll be back year after year and I'm sure that there is another Karen-size hole I can fill in this incredible experience we refer to as Bering Omega. Until then, I'll appreciate the growth that comes when we do the dance . . . step in . . . step away . . . look around . . . step in . . .


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful sentiment. I'll see the event tonight with new eyes. THANKS! xo, Vance

Dr. John Fairless said...

Hope that "Hope" is a brilliant success...I enjoyed reconnecting on Facebook, Karen...and will love following your blog.