Sunday, February 5, 2012
I know they are everywhere. I just don’t always see them.
Our fundraising auction dinner is over. It is hard to describe, “How was it?” I tried to wrap up my thoughts in a neat package any number of times. But I can’t seem to catch it all into something I can share easily. For me, it was a blur of activities, instructions, planning and worrying – in the middle of my ordinary life with three busy kids and two challenging careers. I had one clear thought at one a.m. in the morning walking to my car that day when most everything else was a haze. I knew heroes, often hidden in the shadows, made our event the huge success it was. I would like to recognize them here. I will start with my husband Michael's Kentwood High School National Honor Society students.
About twenty volunteered to help. Some of them are pictured above proudly wearing their "Open Hearts" t-shirts. I remember the first one arrived hours before the event started. I mistook him for a member of the museum staff because he came dressed in a suit. Soon a number more joined him. Only one student, of Ethiopian origin, had a more personal reason for his participation. All spent over ten hours nonstop doing the thankless jobs required to pull off a dinner charity auction. Little did I appreciate before this marathon day what is truly required.
We began in the early morning packing up the auction items that covered our first floor and transported them to the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. We rented tables and dishes to save money over using a caterer. They had been delivered but volunteers needed to unpack and bring them out from a back room. Others then set them up. We had a silent auction of 100+ items. Volunteers scurried as the minutes ticked closer to when the first guest arrived to get all displayed to maximum effect on long tables lining the museum halls. Round tables in the main room were transformed into an inviting dining experience, and the desserts lined up into a tempting array, to turn sweet-tooths into dollars for literacy. Then followed the constant drip drip of urgent tasks after the guests began appearing -- water glasses to be filled, wine bottles opened, snacks put out, misplaced items located, questions answered. . . and on and on. . .
Two of the students provided a bit of drama as the program began. When a guest requested water for tea, two young men ran to the kitchen and located the water pot still unfortunately filled with cold water. They hurriedly brought it from the kitchen to the beverage station and plugged it in, apologizing to the guests for the oversight. Suddenly, the power for the PA and music was lost. Turns out the fuse was not set up to take the surge of energy required to make a large amount of frigid water hot. But it was only a momentarily diversion. And I assured the two everything was fine when I saw their crest fallen faces.
Throughout the evening, if you were paying attention, you could see these students moving quickly from one set of tasks to the next. They laughed and smiled with each other as they toiled. They raised issues they did not know how to handle but otherwise soldiered on. The camaraderie was palpable in the kitchen area where they congregated to grab a snack or drink whenever the activity died down a bit. At the end of a long evening, the guests were checking out and getting ready to drive home with their treasures. But these students were beginning the next set of duties. They cleared the tables of dishes and glass wear used by the 170+ guests, scraped leftover food into huge garbage bins, gathered the rented items and put them back into the storage room where they had found them, broke down the myriad of boxes that just hours before housed the silent auction selection and made numerous trips to the malodorous dumpster behind the museum.
I asked myself -- Why? What was in it for them?
Unlike our guests, it wasn’t to enjoy a wonderfully, prepared Ethiopian meal. They ate subway sandwiches in the kitchen standing up. It wasn’t the program. They were busy closing down the silent auction areas and staging the items for checkout and delivery to the winners when the artist, dancers, poet and writer provided their poignant connections to Ethiopia. It wasn’t the excitement of participating in or watching the live auction. They were delivering desserts, filling up water glasses and dropping off items to the winners while the auctioneer was plying his craft. These teenagers gave up a Saturday night to do the behind the scenes drudgery of helping a cause that most had no connection to – happily, willingly and with no tangible reward.
So why then? I honestly don’t completely know.
I think the fact my husband sets an example by giving up much of his personal time to help them is a big part of it. I also know these kids are high achievers who have experienced what it takes to succeed and aren't afraid of hard work. But I am not convinced these represent the complete explanation. I believe what they exhibited was their character and their heart. I do know for certain that without them the event could not have happened.
They were an unexpected source of inspiration for me – during a night with much to be inspired about already. These teenagers and their counterparts around the globe are our future. And if this evening provided a glimpse into what lies ahead, I see much reason to hope.