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.