Saturday, September 13, 2014


Yesterday was the big fund-raising event for Ruth Ellis Center. Again, I volunteered to help out. This time I did guest check-in. I sat with a couple other volunteers. As guests arrived I helped check names off a spreadsheet, one out in the cloud so all three of us were updating the same file. I think there were about 240 names on the list, though not all came. Alas, check-in was on the main floor and the party was on the 11th.

After most guests had arrived the volunteer coordinator, my boss for the evening, allowed me to join the party. The buffet line had lots of fancy things, though I stuck to safe foods – roast turkey, cheese, cucumber, and hummus. Eventually the program began.

The program is titled "Voices" and gives the Center's youth a chance to express themselves. The Center staff started preparations last winter. They asked various people to help the youth. This included a couple composers, a choreographer, and a creative writer guide. There were also a couple professional producers, though I think one concentrated on clothing. The one person they could have added and didn't was a lighting designer, or at least someone on a follow spot.

First came a video that described the process of the writer and one of the composers working to draw out the youth and guiding them in expressing themselves. In the video we also heard from some of the youth who went through the process and how it helped them to mature.

The writer (also otherwise a volunteer at the Center) worked with several youth, four of whom recited spoken word pieces they had written. These were intercut, with each reading sections before allowing another to speak. The themes were mostly about self-empowerment. One talked about "gay marriage" and how it should be just "marriage." He doesn't gay walk his dog.

Sessions of spoken word alternated with dance. The first couple dances were solos in a ballet style for men. The dancers were accompanied by a string quartet, with music written by one of the composers. The quartet included a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and one from the Michigan Opera Orchestra. They have some high powered friends! The other composer provided electronic dance music for a troupe of eight youth, who danced in the vogue style I see most weeks from the kitchen at the Center.

The next part of the program was awards. First came plaques given to each of the talent guides. I'm sure all their time was donated. Then the staff presented two winners of a new award, a "Ruth's Angel" for exceptional service to the Center.

The first went to a woman who had joined the board only two years ago and in that time raised $40,000 for the center. She came onto the stage and was handed a mic. She told a bit about her passion for the work the Center is doing and how she had to get involved.

The second award was given to me.

This was a delightful surprise! I hadn't been told ahead of time. When the presenter started talking about a faithful volunteer who started back in 2008 I knew it was me. There aren't any other volunteers who have been around as long (I've been there longer than all of the current staff, so there was a scramble to find my start date without asking me). I made my way on stage and accepted the plaque and the mic. I spoke a bit about why I'm there most Wednesdays over six years, even if it is only to serve food, load the dishwasher, and scrub pots. I ended by saying how wonderful it was to see such a large crowd of supporters of the Center. Those who I talked to later assured me what I said was eloquent.

While watching the program, and especially when they started handing out plaques, I was thinking wouldn't it be nice for me to get a plaque? Then I'd tell myself that I'm not doing it for the recognition. I don't need an award. My mind would come back and say, yeah, but wouldn't it be nice, say after ten years? I'll say now that getting the plaque is wonderful!

Afterward I talked to Henry, the coordinator of the Center's drop-in program, of which I am a part. When the staff came up with the idea for the Angel Award late last fall he said he wanted the award to go to people who make a real difference, not some kind of token to a big donor. The others asked if he had someone in mind. He did – me. Others quickly agreed.

Then came the task of getting me there without telling me about the award. I started asking how I might volunteer for the event (saves on buying a pricy ticket). Henry didn't want to answer because he was afraid he would say too much. He turned me over to Nick, the volunteer coordinator for the event. Nick had the task of coming up with something for me to do so that I would be free during the actual program. Though email he offered a couple jobs and I chose one. Then there was the fear that I would do my part and head home, though I had said I very much wanted to see the program. Nick sent out one more email yesterday afternoon asking me to confirm whether I would be there. Thinking back I doubt he sent confirmation notes to the other volunteers. Through the many months, and especially in the last week, the entire staff kept the secret.

It is pretty neat being a Ruth's Angel. I'll be back there Wednesday. And the Wednesday after that.

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