How volunteers in Seattle brought a joyous surprise to local charity organizations
Becoming Dream Champions
The Seattle Center Exhibition Hall was teeming with excitement on the morning of May 13th. Blue and white banners hung everywhere, while volunteers in matching shirts organized piles of supplies sprawled across 20 tables. The words on these banners and shirts were all the same – "Dream Fearlessly."
As more groups of volunteers filed into the auditorium, hugs, handshakes, and kind words rippled throughout the room as strangers were quickly transformed into friends.
They had come together for One Saturday to Dream Fearlessly – and they were eager to begin.
The goal was pretty lofty. This group of Seattle locals was attempting to fill 3,000 drawstring bags with shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, hand lotion, sunscreen, eye drops, hand wipes, and snacks for the homeless population in their city – all within an hour and a half.
All of this was to be done to aid two local organizations – Mary’s Place and YouthCare – that have made helping the homeless their unwavering focus. Some of the people who work for these organizations have suffered hard times themselves, and they dedicate their lives to aid those who are struggling now.
The representatives of these organizations did not know exactly what they would be walking into later in the day, or that their afternoon would be so beautifully emotional.
Making it Fun
Filling 3,000 bags in such a short amount of time may seem like a daunting task, but these volunteers weren’t about to let that stop them. They were going to fill every one of those bags and be as much help to Mary’s Place and YouthCare as possible. The clock was not going to beat them.
American Family Insurance was running the show, and as agent Kim Mackey said, "We always find a way to make it fun."
The volunteers were split into 20 teams and each was given a table stocked with all the supplies they’d need to fill the bags. The teams were offered prizes for achievements, like completing the first properly stuffed bag, having the most spirit, and completing all of their bags first.
Just before the event was to begin, Bob Toney, state director at American Family Insurance, helped to pump up the crowd. He then introduced some very special guests that the Seattle natives were extremely excited about – Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks football team, along with two SeaGals, the Seahawks cheerleaders.
And then they were off.
Volunteers were thrilled as Sherman and Wagner jumped right in to help, stuffing bags beside them as the SeaGals cheered everyone on. Some of the volunteers even got into the spirit and waved their own pom-poms around. Smiles and laughter filled the room.
The mad dash seemed like it was over in a flash, and somehow, these volunteers completed all 3,000 bags in an astonishing 18 minutes.
Nancy Gratton, a member of the team that finished first, believes in celebrating those who dream fearlessly, such as the representatives of Mary’s Place and YouthCare. She explained that she supports their dream of helping everyone they can because she believes in loving her neighbor.
"If you’re eating, they gotta eat," she said.
It was obvious that all of these people believed in their local organizations and wanted to support them and celebrate them as much as they could. That passion which was so visible on their sleeves turned out to also be the fuel to their fire. They were determined to make this surprise for Mary’s Place and YouthCare the best it could possibly be, and show them that their community is behind them.
Why They Were There
There were many volunteers packing bags that day, and they all had their own personal reasons for being there and helping Mary’s Place and YouthCare.
For American Family agent Alma Aslani, it was because she saw herself in the shoes of the homeless population.
"I hope this day inspires people to realize that homelessness is a real issue. Anyone can be homeless, like you or me."
Volunteer Linda Niles expressed a desire to ease the "desperate" situation for Seattle’s homeless people. She said that to her, a “Dream Champion” is someone "willing to volunteer their time for people that really need help."
Niles says that her own personal dream was achieved when she received a heart transplant almost three years ago. On that morning, she was feeling wonderful and ready to make the dreams of the YouthCare and Mary’s Place representatives, and of the Seattle homeless population, a reality.
Couple Lauren Williams and Matthew Baker were also excited to celebrate these two local organizations. They said they like to make a habit of participating in events like this.
"It’s definitely very humbling," Williams said. "I love it for that reason. It’s always good to give back to the community."
Baker, an agent with American Family Insurance, likes that his values are aligned with those of the company he works for. He’s happy that the work he does is "about what we can do for the community."
"We are making sure people’s live are being enriched," he says. "We’re looking out for everybody."
Kim Mackey is another agent who brought a loved one along. She said that the day made her want to do even more volunteer work, and she hoped that everyone there would share those feelings and continue to support those who dream fearlessly. Mackey says that for her, that phrase means, "knowing that anything can be possible and also supporting other people so you can help them achieve their dreams."
Her friend, Genny Moltz, expressed her hope that more people would participate in events like One Saturday to Dream Fearlessly. She said that that she loved how the event made doing impactful work so fun and encouraging. She observed that if more people were able to do things like this on a regular basis, a lot of problems could be solved.
For Moltz, dreaming fearlessly is, "Being the best person that you can be, and not letting limits stop you." She says she would encourage everyone with a dream to, "Be who you are. Try, don’t give up, and just go for it."
After the dust settled, Toney returned to the microphone to introduce the guests of honor – the representatives from Mary’s Place and YouthCare.
The group entered the Exhibition Hall to an emphatic chant of, "MVP! MVP!"
They walked down a large staircase and up to the stage, surrounded by the volunteers who were there for them, and for those they are committed to helping. These people who dedicate their lives to helping others were now on the receiving end of that kindness and outreach.
This moment obviously took them by surprise, and they were visibly moved.
"We’re here today not only to support the dreams and goals that you all have as organizations, but also to celebrate the work that you do every single day," Toney said. "There’s absolutely no question that you are the real MVP’s – what we call the ‘Most Valuable Protectors.’"
The representatives from Mary’s Place and YouthCare were then presented with "MVP" trophies.
Toney then told them that this day was special because, while they work tirelessly to help the homeless every single day, they didn’t have to lift a finger that afternoon. He told them what this group had accomplished, and how quickly they had done it.
Shocked and with tears in their eyes, some of the representatives expressed their gratitude.
Jody Waits of YouthCare — a short-term foster care alumni herself — told the crowd that the people she works with are in a tough spot. They’re in transitional periods and "what they want most is a chance to get that dream back on track."
"It takes the whole community – every last one of us – to show up, look someone in the eye, and say, ‘I see you. We’re gonna get you there,’" she told the crowd.
"Without the community, none of anything that we do would be possible," Mary’s Place staff member Zaneta Reid told the crowd.
She described her job as her passion, expressing gratitude that she gets to help people who are truly in need, and that she can help them "to know that their life has value when they feel like it doesn’t."
After a moving day filled with joy and excitement, a relay line loaded all of the bags into trucks for Mary’s Place and YouthCare to use in street outreach, and to give out in their shelters.
Everyone left with a smile on their face and pride in their hearts because they knew the impact they had was real, and that they were all indeed Dream Champions.