Volunteering, You Make a Life by What you Give

Volunteering, You Make a Life by What you Give

Excuse us for taking a little poetic license with a Winston Churchill quote in our blog title, but it works, don’t you think?

With Covid numbers down and a beautiful Texas Spring emerging, people are out and about and ready DO things! And one of those things – near and dear to our Art Spark Texas hearts is VOLUNTEERING!

To introduce you to signing up to volunteer with us, we have a brand-new video about volunteering which was created by our 2022 Bennington College interns! We think you will love it as much as we do – and you probably will recognize a few familiar faces of those who helped make this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkVQ-JHqTfg

And to get you started, the Art Spark Texas staff also shared some of their favorite volunteering experiences. Enjoy!

Eric Clow – Media and Communications Specialist   

A volunteer opportunity can change the trajectory of someone’s life. I realize that might sound like hyperbole—or the words of an organization in desperate need of volunteers—but I can assure you from personal experience, it’s 100% true. In 2012, I stumbled into a small yet mighty disability arts nonprofit as a volunteer. A decade later, I find myself happily working for that same organization, which has become like a family. I look fondly at projects I helped bring to fruition with a sense of pride in the positive impact they had on individuals with disabilities and gratitude for the purpose this work gave my life. This volunteer gig not only led to years of meaningful work, but it also introduced me to a community of like-minded artists—and even my future wife!

Photo of a volunteer instructing two young adults who are seated at a laptop in a large classroom.
Assisting participants in music and recording internship

As you might have guessed, that organization was Art Spark Texas. The program where I started as a volunteer was our music and recording summer camp. Being a disabled musician myself, it was deeply rewarding to share knowledge and support with young adults in the disability community. But the perks didn’t stop there: I also learned tools and tricks that furthered my own creative goals—a mutually enriching experience. This sparked my passion for volunteering, and over the ensuing year, I sought every opportunity I could to help out. Eventually, this led to my job as coordinator of Speaking Advocates, a program that continues to thrive under the stewardship of MsBoye.

With hundreds of volunteer opportunities to choose from in Central Texas, it can be difficult to decide where you want to donate your time. Operating at the intersection of arts, disability, and education, Art Spark Texas is a wholly unique organization. You can put your creative talents to use while elevating a still widely underrepresented minority. I’m especially excited about our ATXgo project, which makes it easier for people with disabilities to discover the most accessible parks and venues in the Austin area. If you’re interested in surveying parks, you can join our team by filling out this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSflAFOQac0aHbbZE2ZHjVAoE-oaoukuXRJpq9yrv96EF7GNDw/viewform

If you want to assist with venues, you can send me an email at [email protected]. I hope to hear from you!

April Sullivan – Director of Programs 

Volunteering is something I really enjoy and wish I spent more time doing it. I have had several volunteer jobs over the years. As a kid, I volunteered at a therapeutic riding center, brushing horses and working in the stables. As an adult, I have volunteered at several one-time events, but one of my long-term volunteer projects was at McBeth Recreation Center serving on their Friends of McBeth Board. McBeth is an adaptive recreation center as part of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

We served lunch once a month at the dances they hosted for adults with disabilities. Hot dogs, pizza, candy and sodas were always the big sellers at a dollar or 50 cents each. It was fun to be just on the other side of the door as the McBeth gym was converted into a dance club with flashing lights, a disco ball, and loud music. If a favorite song came on, I could take a dance break. But our services were very much needed as the dancers took a snack break, so I was back at the stove or the ice chest pretty quickly.

books on a shelfAnother favorite volunteer opportunity was with The Inside Books Project. This involved opening and reading letters from inmates at Texas jails and sending them the books they requested. Finding the specific book they asked for was always a joyful occasion, but not always easy to do, because the books were available based on donations from the community. So, usually, the job was to hunt the shelves for a book in a similar genre.

The other tricky part was having to send books based on the weight limit. We wanted to stuff the envelopes to the max, but not over the max, because these books had to hold this person over for a month until they could request again. Then, we were able to write a letter back to the person and just say hi, send them a list of the books we could find, and wish them well. It feels nice to share my time and interests with someone else in a less than fortunate situation.

Volunteering means so much to everyone involved: the volunteer, the organization, and the person being served by that organization. If you have a chance, get out there and volunteer! It feels good!

Susan Slattery – Director of Outreach 

Fireworks appear high in the sky above historic buildings in Alexandria, Virginia
Fireworks at First Night Alexandria

​Volunteering starts early in my family. The first volunteer gig I recall was when my Dad handed my friend and me a stack of fliers for a church rummage sale and directed us to go distribute them to people walking by. It must have worked because people stopped, took a flier and then walked inside to see what was happening. Success! After that, as I gained skills, and height, I took on more complicated tasks – daycare helper, Vacation Bible school assistant, chili slinger at a food pantry, singing with my cousins at retirement homes, teaching swimming at the YMCA Saturday mornings – the list goes on. I can’t think of any volunteer jobs that I didn’t enjoy doing or at least learn something from, or meet new people or have new experiences. I do remember being tired and dirty a few times, and one time soaking wet, but it didn’t discourage me.

As some may have experienced, sometimes a volunteer gig turns into a job offer! You happen to be in the right place at the right time with people who value what you do as a volunteer. That has happened to me a couple of times, with the most notable time being with First Night Alexandria.

A crowd watches a band on stage. One musician plays a saxophone, another musicians plays an electric guitar
The Grandsons band rocks out in the Torpedo Factory Art Center at First Night Alexandria

I was approached to serve on the volunteer-run First Night talent selection committee to pick bands and performing artists from the many who applied to be part of the event, a large-scale, family-oriented celebration of the Arts which takes place on New Year’s Eve in many cities. I served on the committee for several years, and met some great people. It was fun! There’s nothing I like more than a big party with lots of music so this was perfect as an annual volunteer commitment. When the First Night director suddenly resigned due to a family move out-of-state, the board of directors approached me to take over the event and voila – my volunteer stint ended, but the fun was just starting. Now I was running the party, and a First Night volunteer no more.

As Director of Outreach for Art Spark Texas, now that we are starting to do more in-person events and activities, and just held our May Day Arts Celebration last weekend, we are looking for volunteers. We had some great volunteers who helped with every aspect of the May Day event from setting up, decorating and flier distribution to sound engineering, face painting and, of course, clean-up. We would love to add you to our team of volunteers that we can call upon. Please feel free to reach out to me via [email protected] if you would like to be part of the fun!

Jerry Slayton – Director of Education 

A person takes a selfie while hiking in the mountains.Upon reflection, the times I have volunteered my time, energy, or labor for a cause has always rewarded me in ways I could have never anticipated. These experiences always come with a new feeling of connection and perspective. One such opportunity was a humanitarian trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2007. Our group was responsible for completing the building of a schoolhouse and clearing the land beside the school for a community garden. I anticipated the labor being difficult, and it was. However, I could never have anticipated the impromptu soccer game with the local builder that happened after work, or the incredible generosity shown to us each day as the community prepared food for us. In saying yes to that volunteer opportunity, I allowed the opportunity to change me.

Silva Laukkanen – Director Of Integrated Dance 

“Everything that happens to you is a lesson which is also a blessing, or a blessing which is also a lesson.” So said my mentor when I left South Africa for the first time.

I decided quite early on in life that I wanted to go and see other places; not only to visit but to get the full experience of living somewhere else. You see, I grew up in a small town in Finland called Halikko. In fact, my mother’s side of the family has lived its entire existence for generations in this area. So, when the opportunity came to travel to South Africa, I went for it without hesitation.

My two best friends and me in 2020, when we went to visit them. Left to right Thibedi Phalane, Silva Laukkanen and Thaba Lesailane .      Silva teaching a ball skill in a local school. Two lines facing the same way passing the ball over the head to the person behind.

The opportunity came while I was coaching girls’ gymnastics (we can totally talk about that later) in the even smaller town where I went to school, and it came in the form of SCORE (Sports Coaches Outreach). In South Africa, SCORE uses sport to provide children and youth valuable skills and opportunities that they need to succeed in life and contribute to their communities. I wasn’t very much into sports, but I was totally into moving to South Africa. So, I applied as a volunteer and was accepted into their program.

I spent 2001-2002, first in Limpopo Province in the north of the country followed by 6 months in a part of Cape Town called Observatory working in the schools of Nyanga (a township near Cape Town whose name means “Moon” in Xhosa). I loved it all. It made such a huge impact on me that I have gone back twice since. I feel like so many things happened to me while there, but they truly all were either lessons or blessings. I’m, of course, only seeing this now decades after.

Circling up in a school yard in Bathlabine in Limpopo Province in South Africa in 2001        Kids kicking a ball.

My mission was to go far, and I managed to go 15,066 km away from my hometown. I made friends whom I am still in touch with today and found the most influential mentor of my life. “Everything that happens to you is a lesson which is also a blessing or a blessing which is also a lesson” … I keep those words close to my heart still today. And I can’t wait to go back in 2025.

MsBoye – Speaking Advocates Program Manager 

I started volunteering at the National Women’s Music Festival in 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin and I’ve been volunteering every year since. I originally signed up to volunteer as a work exchange for the price of the ticket, something I started doing when I was in my 20s.

At first, volunteering allowed me to go to things that were not in my budget, but over the years I’ve realized that I’m much happier at events like this when I have a role to play, when I have a job. Sally and I have continued to make the trek to Madison from Austin every year because it feeds us in so many ways.

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