Week 8: A Very Special Easter Egg Hunt [Score +10]
Every person who volunteers does so for a reason. It could be because they believe in the cause or the organization. Maybe a friend or family member benefitted from the work or was affected by the situation. Perhaps their community is in crisis following a natural disaster. Sometimes it’s just to support a friend. Sometimes it’s just plain fun, or the volunteer gets a benefit herself by volunteering. It could even be because they’re under peer pressure at work or school to get involved.
I don’t believe the reason matters, in most cases. I can check the boxes next to pretty much every single one of these reasons myself.
I intend to use volunteer opportunities for several of my weekly intrepid activities this year, and this week’s activity was the first. It was quite different than the more behind-the-scenes, pro-bono kinds of volunteering roles I generally find myself doing, so it took me outside my routine in a number of ways.
A local community center, THEWELL.Community, last Saturday hosted its third-annual Special Egg Hunt for children with special needs. The director of this community center—and organizer of the event—is a friend and my personal trainer, so supporting the work she’s put into building this event was one of my first reasons for volunteering.
THEWELL.Community is also a church, and it was after a separate volunteer event during the holiday season last year that I started attending on Sundays myself. I was immediately welcomed by dozens of warm and friendly people, so getting to serve side-by-side with them was appealing, too.
But I admit that even with these great reasons, I was a little uncertain of how much I would enjoy it.
I’ve never been a person who’s drawn to babies and kids. When I was making my first real spending money by babysitting in high school, I preferred watching older kids who needed more watch-a-movie levels of supervision than eat-sleep-poop-repeat care. A lot of my discomfort, I’m sure, is due to a lack of exposure and experience. My one brother is just a couple years younger than I, and we have just two cousins—two, period—on both sides of the family. Our household of four lived in a very rural community with no nearby kids in the neighborhood, so I mostly interacted with peers and kids who were within a few years of my own age.
Add to my lack of small-human exposure the fact that I have had little interaction with kids with special needs, too, and you can see how this egg hunt was outside my normal box.
I suspect she knew what she was doing in more ways than she would realize, but my friend (the organizer) gave me a perfect job for the day of the egg hunt: volunteer registration. Not only did I need to check in each volunteer as they arrived, but I needed to give most of them a job on the spot after just a few seconds of interaction and assessment. And this job, as important as it was to the success of the event, also allowed me to be in the background in an observer’s role once the actual festivities got underway.
I had a list of jobs with great titles to assign, including Egg Dropper (lay out eggs for each of the three hunts), Egg Buddy (escort the family from one area to another and help the child pick up eggs so the family could take photos), and my favorite, Egg Fairy (watch for kids that were struggling and help some eggs magically appear nearby). Each job interacted with the children to a different degree, so I had to assess the person’s energy on the spot and pick a good job for them.
When most of the 80+ volunteers were arriving, it was a fast-paced, high-demand role that made sweat run down my back and my water bottle run dry before the event was halfway done.
When the first of the three egg hunts started, though, the first wave of volunteers were in their places, and I was able to step away from registration to watch the action.
More than a dozen children in wheelchairs and walkers participated in the first egg hunt designed specifically for them: each egg had a magnet inside, and each child was given a dowel rod with a magnet on the end. The two magnets matched up, the egg stuck to the end of the stick, and it enabled kids who otherwise are unable to bend over and pick up the eggs to fully participate in this holiday event. The hunt was indoors in a gymnasium-sized room with a concrete floor, so they could roll easily around the room. And because this hunt was exclusively for them, they didn’t have to compete with a mass of other children running around scooping up eggs.
The second egg hunt an hour later was sensory-friendly, managed in hushed tones for children who have autism and other disabilities that lead them to become easily overwhelmed by a lot of stimuli.
And the final egg hunt was a general hunt at which the siblings of the children with special needs could also participate, still in a easier-paced environment than the typical chaos, but side-by-side with their brothers and sisters.
The nature of my typical volunteer activities not only means I’m offering my services behind the scenes, but it also means I’m usually not interacting directly with the people who benefit from the work of the organization. This three-part Special Egg Hunt was different.
I loved seeing the intense focus on the face of a young girl who within a couple minutes mastered the magnetic-egg-and-stick capture and methodically picked up one egg after another for her basket. Across the room, a little girl of about three years old was excitedly picking up eggs and placing them on the ground closer to her brother’s wheelchair, having as much fun helping him as he was collecting the eggs. One 18-year-old young man participated in the last hunt, brought a casserole-sized basket for the task, and collected eggs with an expression that could only be described as “delighted.”
Every child who came had, on average, three or more family members with them watching, encouraging, and digitally capturing the event. At least one family drove from 40 miles away for the event and said multiple times how grateful they were for it. One father said his son can’t participate in standard egg hunts because he just gets run over by other kids, so he couldn’t wait to share this event with more parents so they could participate next year.
One of my initial reasons for volunteering was to help a friend with an event she’d put all her energy and heart into organizing for months, and that was totally worth it in itself.
But seeing firsthand the impact of the event made this one of the most rewarding volunteer roles I’ve had in a long time. It’s not something I’ll forget, and I know it will encourage me to be more intrepid in choosing a wider selection of volunteer roles in the future.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger beyond basics (i.e., work, hometown, what’s your dog’s name): +2
- Learned someone’s name: +3