Celebrating Those Who Serve By Debbie Vogel

This year marked the fifth annual National AmeriCorps Week: May 14-21, 2011. Spokane area AmeriCorps, VISTA, and alumni planned activities which included; a variety of opportunities to serve at local nonprofits, appreciation discounts from vendors, and celebration events.

The week started with two service projects, planting trees at Turnbull Wildlife Refuge and collecting for 2nd Harvest’s Stamp out Hunger event. On Sunday, a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels was coordinated with Applebee’s who generously donated 10% of a participating customer’s bill. The work week then started with a fabulous kickoff to all AmeriCorps with Dutch Brother Coffee donating a free drink to any member who visited any one of their several Spokane locations on Monday. Cup of Cool Water was the service project for the day and volunteers were able to help homeless teens by organizing the clothing bank, cleaning storage rooms, and making cards for youth in the jail system. Tuesday, May 17th offered AmeriCorps another great coffee discount at Chairs Coffee and the service project for that day was at Inland Northwest Baby. Volunteers eagerly assisted in sorting through baby and toddler size clothes for the organization’s upcoming, city wide family event. Inland Northwest Baby provides essential needs such as clothing and diapers to local babies and toddlers in need.

Wednesday members completed a service project at P.E.A.C.H Farms in Cheney. Volunteers drove out to the farm and participated in transplanting seedlings for this organic farm whose mission is to provide local, organic food to low income community members. The vendor appreciation of the day, buy $1 ticket, get one free to see a movie at the historic Garland Theater. On Thursday, May 19th, volunteers could be found at both locations of Union Gospel Mission Thrift Stores assisting in cleaning and sorting for this remarkable international organization. Froyo Earth, a local and enormously popular frozen yogurt business offered the vendor appreciation with buy one, get one free to all AmeriCorps members who visited wearing their AmeriCorps attire on Thursday.

Local celebrities, the Spokane Shock, current champion professional arena football team defended their title against Tampa Bay Friday night with largely discounted group tickets being offered to AmeriCorps members. Those in attendance were treated to an amazing show of a sport that is rapidly growing around the nation. AmeriCorps brought awareness to the Arena crowd with their AmeriCorps attire and a public recognition was made by reader board display and announcements during the game.

The grand finale, the AmeriCorps Week Celebration, finally arrived on Saturday, May 21st at Riverfront Park on a beautiful sunny day. The event began at 3:30 p.m. at the Northbank Shelter with decorations of red, white and blue shining across the park. Music filled the air as The Blissterz, a local band showcasing an AmeriCorps alumni as their lead singer, brought toe tapping and smiles to the almost 100 AmeriCorps, VISTA, alumni and family members who attended to celebrate their substantial service to their communities. The well planned festivities included; a beautiful varying display of art submitted by members, volleyball competitions, random drawings of service appreciation awards, and a sensational talent show. The talent show revealed the amazing talents of current AmeriCorps members that ranged from a solo violin performance, Irish step dance, rap singer, Native American singing and drums, keyboard soloist, gymnastics, and culminating in a sensational fire dance that wowed the audience.

A great feast was also enjoyed by everyone there as O’Doherty’s Irish Pub catered a wonderful BBQ with that was plentiful enough with even the young construction members who could be seen going back for seconds and thirds. AmeriCorps themed cake was served as heartfelt inspiration filled the air as reflection stories and future dreams were told from past and current members.

What could possibly top of a week filled with activities and a Saturday afternoon celebration, a parade of course! The 73rd Annual Lilac Parade, Spokane’s largest and most prestigious parade brought one final opportunity to bring awareness to the vast presence of AmeriCorps during National AmeriCorps Week. Current members, alumni, and family who attended the festivities starting early that afternoon made a point stay and march in the parade with their AmeriCorps attire behind the AmeriCorps banner until the parade ended at 10:30 p.m. Those who marched in the parade found that once again, patience and hard work (the wait in the parade staging with cold winds for over two hours, then actually marching for two hours) paid off as walking through the streets of downtown with thousands of parade spectators seeing and hearing the announcements of AmeriCorps and the mission we serve of volunteering to give back to our communities.
The week-long celebration was a wonderful success to thank those who serve, have served, or support those who serve. Service projects throughout the week provided members the opportunity to get acquainted with and serve a local nonprofit that offers their services to those in need. Generous local vendors supported AmeriCorps tireless efforts with discounts each day in appreciation for their service to the community. And the grand finale on Saturday with memorable festivities showcasing the talents and camaraderie of all those who serve through AmeriCorps will be remembered long beyond the term of 2011.