What is Community Service, or CS, for short?. For most, the term CS is associated with either being mandated, as a punishment, or both. For the wealth of the worlds volunteer corps, though, Community Service is a direct way to observe, identify, and implement small city/town dynamics from the ground up.
It’s not glamorous: show up work for a few (or many) hours, without pay, and perform labor or skill related tasks. For some organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, it’s almost all labor. For other organizations, it may be as simple as herding throngs of people and trying to achieve the Valhalla of the most unglamorous volunteer duty of all- crowd management. One things for certain- you cannot underestimate the power and will of people who readily give up their time to volunteer for the service of others.
We are firmly stuck in a world where salaries, wages, and benefits dominate our conversations, our psyches, and alter some decisions we make. All of this makes the allure of CS, well, not so alluring. You have to find a special sect of people who want to give up a Saturday or Sunday morning, to give service to other people. It’s the easiest representation of the Golden Rule, treat others as you want to be treated. As an undergrad, I volunteered for St. Judes, The American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity (to just name a few) as a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity at the University of Southern Maine.
Being out of college for a few years now, I’d been itching to get back into the CS scene. The problem was I didn’t have a house full of college students who were willing to get their hands dirty at my disposal. Scheduling issues compounded this, so I can admit I’ve slacked a little in the CS arena. So, imagine my surprise when I got an email from another member of an organization I’m apart of: The Seahawkers.
Far from your average booster group, I’d come to learn that The Seahawkers are a group full of vibrant, loud and proud volunteers, fanatics, and above all else, good hearted people. Any who, I received an email requesting volunteer support for a Russell Wilson Passing Academy camp in July. I had heard of the Passing Academy, but my own ignorance prevented me from really knowing a lot more about it than what the website advertises: a chance for the youth of today to focus on football, ethics, and community. Of course, having an appearance and participatory drills by the roving QB couldn’t hurt either.
I will try not to go on in typical AOTP style for pages and pages about the camp itself. But, the ultimate goal was achieved- the campers who showed up rubbed elbows with an NFL QB, other NFL players and coaches, and everyone got an autograph card from #3 at the end. (An actual card with a Sharpie autograph on it, not a stamp!) For the 800+ kids that were about to descend upon the University of Washington for the 2015 RWPA, it was a once a year experience that any youth would want to be apart of.
For this post, I really wanted to highlight the efforts of the Red-shirted personnel known as volunteers. A small, motley crew of thirty showed up on an overcast Saturday afternoon. We showed up two hours prior to the camps start so we could accomplish all of the behind the scenes tasks that you might assume went into managing a crowd of over one thousand people. Every camper gets a t-shirt, so there were plenty of box and passenger trucks that had mountains of merchandise to sort and distribute. From the shirts that are included with the $175 camper fee, to extra RWPA shirts, sweatshirts, hats, rubber wrist bands, pictures, footballs and other football merchandise, you’ve got to set the stage for success. We erected big 8X8 and 10X10 tents, set up tables, and placed cones on the field for the individual drills across three separate fields. We made enough Gatorade to feed a herd of elephants, and then we did it again.
As the campers started to trickle in, the line backed around the block. Smiling campers tripped over one another to get to the field in time. Some wore the looks of Pop Warner athletes- focused and determined to get something tangential out of the five hour camp session. A smattering of coaches and players wore black shirts, and spent their time running through passing drills, contact drills, and the like. One thing was certain- we’d needed those two extra hours before the camp set up to make sure everything was set for the Campers… As the parents settled into their seats, and campers populated the field, it was time for Mr. Wilson to make his appearance. Never underestimate just how loud a crowd of 800+ youths can be. Because they were loud.
As the campers set off into their drills and passes, the volunteers roved around, some directing foot traffic, others picking up the ever present mess that comes with the territory of almost two thousand people in a stadium, and the rest of us got to filling what can only be described as a thousand cups of Gatorade and water. I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because I really did lend a hand in filling, placing, and passing out over one thousand cups of Gatorade and water. We were fortunate to have fair, overcast weather for the camp, so we kept churning the Gatorade out, and the campers kept drinking it.
The sheer number of cups was offset easily by the hilarious stacks of Papa Johns pizza that some other volunteers helped pass out to hungry campers as they hustled by to get a seat in the UDub stadium for Q&A with Russell. I’ll probably never forget the youths who came up to the tables that day, looking fierce in their florescent Nikes or apparel bought from Dicks Sporting goods. Not one looked upset or unhappy. The camp seemed to be a great success.
As the campers set off to leave, we handed them a swag bag- complete with goodies. By the time we finally closed the camp down, it was well after 10 PM. Not a bad way to spend 8 hours on a Saturday afternoon. The people who truly made this though, were the volunteers. The senior staff, Sue, Rick, and Justin, have likely been with the camp from its 2012 inception. They dedicate a lot of their time to make these camps in Washington successful. Justin for example, is a part of a staff that travels across the country, as there are camp dates in VA, NC, WI, and Victoria, B.C. They corralled the group of us thirty, and divvied the tasks. They weren’t the only people in our cast of characters though. Probably the best part of partaking in an event like this is the people you meet. I’m not talking about rubbing elbows with Seahawks executives, or even Russell Wilson. I got a chance to see him up close, as he walked through our Gatorade station area en route to the Q&A session. But I didn’t go to try and get a jump autograph, though I did hear a camper ask him to autograph a Gatorade cup. Anywho, even with the star power present, I was thrilled to be in the company of thirty plus fans, in the prime part of the year, pre, pre season. Nothing else big is going on, and the diminished training camp limited some of the things we could talk about.
Sports fans can talk about sports wherever they are, during whatever they are doing, even if it is driving, pouring a thousand cups of Gatorade, or handing out T-Shirts to screaming kids. And talk we did.
One volunteer, Jeff, mercifully put up with me incorrectly calling him Chris for a part of the day. We had a hilarious conversation about the issue of fans, and their incessant need to measure how much of a fan they are in comparison to other fans. We coined the term ‘fandick measuring contest’ and it was quite possibly one of the funniest conversations about sports and life I’ve been privileged to take part of. Most of the volunteers were also wearing Fitbits, measuring how far they’d walked. Jeff and I couldn’t possibly resist calling their exploits a ‘fitdick measuring contest’, and Dina, a volunteer who wore such a device, graciously put up with our antics. Dina, by the way, rocked an incredibly loud pair of blue and green NEFF sunglasses, and put up with the rowdy campers who couldn’t decide what color of Gatorade they wanted. Some were polite, a larger number of them weren’t, but she took it all in stride. Gene, another volunteer, handed out hundreds of cups. He too, had a nasty pair of shades. At this point I was beginning to think I missed the memo, I was sunglasses-less. It’s also important to point out that ‘loud’ and ‘nasty’ are good adjectives for this post’s purpose. Chris, a student from a California university, walked on the day of the event to volunteer. He poured drinks, passed out pizza, and endured our jokes when he saddled himself up with a few too many goodie bags to hand out to campers at the end.
Tony, another volunteer, is a firefighter, hardworking, full blooded American. At least from what I could gather. Erica and Tamara, yet even more volunteers, corralled the staggering lines of campers into their seating and eating areas. Dante, a fellow military member, motivated young campers, kept the energy high. He also got to assist some photographers for the event.
While were on the topic of service members, I met two from the U.S. Navy, and another member, a retired NCO, of the Military Seahawkers, the organization which I am a part of. There are many more whose names I am still trying to recall, who dealt with all of the things we’ve discussed. Everyone of them was fantastic. I got a chance to be a part of an assembly line in making almost 1,000 goodie bags for the campers on the way out.
We weathered waves of screaming campers, parents whose emotions ranged from frustration, to where’s my child, to amazement, happiness and many more. When you have that many people, things are bound to get a little bit hectic. We as volunteers did all that we could do to mitigate the crowds, or confusion. I met and worked alongside season ticket holders, fans who sit in the nose bleed sections, fans who watch from club level, and many more, all of whom wore red shirts and gave up their day.
Yes, we talked about the elephant in the room- the contract situation involving #3. We debated the W/L record of the upcoming season, players and games that we were interested to watch, and many more topics, some ‘Hawks related, some not. Not once did any of us complain about what we were doing- providing a service for the youth of Washington. Football brings us together, and here we are, breaking down mountains of cardboard boxes, cracking jokes, talking and openly debating about life in all aspects. No one got paid to be here. We didn’t get tickets or memorabilia (except that which we created) in exchange for our time. You can’t put a price on those things.
I’ll chalk this up as a successful re-entrance into the CS arena. I made a few friends, and I hope to be involved in many more of these events to come. It felt great to give back. For any of you interested in joining the Seahawkers, click here. Dues are manageable, as are local meetings. There is probably a chapter near you, even if you don’t live in the state of WA. For all the haters out there, the internet snipers who will debate the QB aspect of this post in relation to others, I think Jeff and I can say it best- check your fandick at the door, and come prepared to work for the betterment of others. It’s about the kids, not your ego. Till next time…