A Little Kid Imagination

Perhaps it is folly to try to blog in the midst of a vacation trip, after two mai tais.  But I have a commitment to myself (and you) to write once a week so here goes.  A few observations from an unexpected trip to the “happiest place on earth.”
1.  It is an amazing treat to get to spend time with friends from middle school (we are here to visit Wayne’s friend, Meleah, who has been his friend since middle school).  And to see her children (her daughter and teammates are down from Michigan for a volleyball tournament) and my children (and niece) make new connections.  At first our girls and the Michigan girls didn’t mingle.  Somehow the novelty of hearing Elizabeth’s and Tenley’s southern accents was the catalyst for interaction and next thing I knew, everyone was in the pool together. 
2.  Although it is a hit and miss experience, it is nice to shake up the fitness routine by figuring out a way to keep it going on the road.  (It is also a huge motivator to know I need to keep reporting in to Daily Mile.)  I had a bland experience at the Wingate Inn “fitness center,” a sweaty but great run through the adjoining corporate park, two challenging stationary bike workouts here at the Regal Sun Resort, and a hot, sweaty, but invigorating run along Lake Buena Vista Blvd, including a discovery of a little diversion through an “island walk.” 
3.  It is a weird dichotomy to be reading a book called, “You’re Not the Boss of Me — Brat-Proofing your 4-12 year old child” when you are at a place where pretty much every interaction has to do with spending money on something child-centric, making a family decision about where to eat amongst differing desires, or seeing young children in all-out tantrum mode.  Although I often feel that I am behind the eight ball on this, it was rewarding to see Wayne Kevin get to spend a day at EPCOT for “free,” having spent a day in January sharing oobleck with the children of the Springfield Housing Project for his Disney Day of service. 
3.  It is mindbending to see your children grow up.  When Wayne Kevin and I were at Ridemakerz, he chose stickers to decorate the car(s) he had just built.  When the stickers didn’t look that great on the car, I said, “well, you can use them on your notebooks next year” (he will be entering 6th grade).  He gave me that look – the one I have become accustomed to raising a rising 9th grader.  I said, “Oh, too little kid for you, huh?”  The comment that floored me was this:
But I still have a little kid imagination.
May you always.
I will “run” into you next week, readers!

Miss Piggy Hammers it Home

In early November 2009, my mother in law forwarded me an email.  I think this email originated from Lighthouse of the Big Bend, but I don’t completely recall.  The email contained information about a new program, Give a Day, Get a Disney Day (GADGADD), that was looking for volunteer coordinators.  The program would provide a free day at a Disney park in exchange for a day of service at an approved organization.  In roughly the time it takes to sing M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, I was on board!  I could spend an entire blog dissecting the reasons why I would pile another commitment onto my already full plate.  Suffice it to say, I love volunteering and seeing people “connect dots” with each other within our community.  I also believe, after working with volunteers for a few decades, that it is as important (perhaps more important) to apply good “people management” skills when working with volunteers as it is when working with paid employees.  This program gave me a chance to put that belief to the test (and more).

When I look back on the period from mid-November 2009, through the notification we received in March 2010 that the program had reached its “million volunteer mark” and would no longer be accepting new volunteers, three observations come to mind:

Is it right to volunteer in exchange for “compensation” instead of the simple “joy of volunteering”?

Disney targeted this program very heavily toward families.  As project specialists, we were encouraged to recruit volunteer opportunities where children ages six and up could participate.  I spoke to many families who said, “we don’t believe you ought to get anything in exchange for volunteering.”  As a parent, I agree with them that it is critical that our children see us, their parents, giving back in the community with no expectation of anything in return.  In the case of the GADGADD program, however, I felt that the Disney ticket was a) a well-deserved reward for volunteers who often go unrecognized while giving selflessly of their time and energy, and b) an incentive to people who had not volunteered previously to give volunteering a shot (in the hopes they would keep volunteering after the Disney Day.) 

Speaking of those families……

As a parent who has always tried to demonstrate “volunteerism in action” to my children, I know it is not always easy to find an opportunity where kids are welcomed and given something age-appropriate and useful to do.  It was a stretch with GADGADD, too, but the agencies I worked with rose to the challenge.  At the Special Olympics 5K in January 2010, kids made signs encouraging the runners, ran alongside the Special Olympics athletes in the 1K event, and provided directional assistance to runners.  

Other family-friendly projects included rolling plasticware at the homeless shelter (another project coordinator’s cause), state park cleanups, collecting food from mailboxes during a drive for the homeless, serving as recreational assistants at a HUGE Martin Luther King Day community celebration, and helping foster animals get adopted. 

Big databases can make the simplest of concepts kind of “Goofy”

The volunteer opportunity postings as well as the volunteer signups for GADGADD were all done through the Hands on Network Volunteer Opportunity Portal (VOP).  There were times when the “portal” felt like more of a roadblock than a passageway.  As I wrote in my guest post on Lauren Novo’s blog, my “day job” experiences dealing with Healthy Kids’ transition to a new Third Party Administration vendor made the VOP a “walk in the park,” but it still presented challenges that many volunteers and agencies found discouraging.  Bill Hogg, who calls himself the “Amazing Service Guy,” wrote about his family’s experience, stating “the website did not function properly making it difficult to access volunteer opportunities.” 

Through this program, with its ups and downs, I met the kindest people.  (Except for this guy, who was unhappy that a project he wanted to do was full: 

“sure i understand you hooked up your friends first, you all getting together and
taking a bus down too?”
Maybe Kermit could hop on over and talk this guy down!

I could go on and on about this program, but hopefully hitting on these three main points gave you readers a little insight into the experience. 

Ultimately, I agree with the words of this Irish Proverb:
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. 
The GADGADD program helped build many literal shelters through construction projects, but I like to think it built many figurative shelters, too, in the bonds that were strengthened among families and communities, both in the projects that were undertaken and in the memories families will make when they visit a Disney Park.*

I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

*Volunteers were given the option to donate their tickets to charity.