Relay Volunteerism

Today I attended the wrap-up session for my local Relay for Life. I'm a team captain, and tonight I turned in the last of the cash and sat down for the annual bitch session: Tell us what we can do better next year.

There were many things cheered and a few flaws pointed out. Then I stood up.

"I realize this isn't going to be the most popular idea in the room," I said. "This has been a terrific event for us - it's our second year, and the experience has been very positive. But there was one thing I heard from all my team members, and that's how demoralizing it is for the walkers as they watch the mass exodus at midnight.

"Relay is supposed to be an all-night event. I've been doing Relay for a long time before I moved here, and this is the only Relay I've ever seen where people leave before it's over. The tents aren't supposed to come down until the sun comes up, but the tent city is like a ghost town by 2 a.m. It's hard for those of us who are committed to doing this all the way, to look around and see most of the teams are gone and say, 'Why are we still here?'

"Perhaps we should focus more efforts on getting the team captains to make a real committment to staying the whole night and getting team members to do all their shifts. There are ways to make it happen - organize three shifts, give yourself the 4 a.m. shift if you just can't fill it.

"But Relay is a symbolic event, representing a neverending fight. We owe it to the survivors and the people from whom we've raised the money to walk all night, and that means the team captains have to make it a priority."

I practiced beforehand. I didn't want to be the whiny bitch, but dammit, I'm a team captain and I'm not the new kid on the block anymore and this bothered the HELL out of me and my team. We had shoes on the track from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., just as we promised.

Since many of the teams had given up the ghost by dawn, I expected the reaction would mostly be negative and defensive. Instead, the committee leaders and many team captains thanked me, said they agreed completely and it had been a serious problem we need to address in order to grow the event. Several ideas were bandied about for ways to better motivate the teams.

One team captain groused that her team was mostly middle-aged and older teachers, and they get tired, and it's a bad time of year for them, and they don't even have a tent, and they raise a lot of money for the event blah blah blah... I have no diplomacy. Fortunately, I didn't have to respond, because I would have said, "If you can't find four people among the entire faculty and staff of Woodland Elementary to walk one hour each once a year, perhaps you should give your team over to someone who can motivate them."

Which is far too harsh, she was a nice lady who was only expressing how difficult it is to motivate older team members. And she had a point about the time of year being too close to the end of the school year. But I honestly believe that's our problem as captains, not the Relay's. You get into this knowing what the requirements are, and if you can't get your people to do it, you're not really doing it.

It's not like the cancer patients can suddenly decide they're too tired to fight their cancer. It's not like the cancer cells say, "It's too hot in here, I give up."

It's important. It's symbolic. Get off your ass and do it right, because anything else is just half-assed.


They made me chairman of the Motivational Committee.

ME: Noooo!
CHAIR1: You'll be great!
ME: *hides behind briefcase*
CHAIR2: Write it down, that's Elizabeth Donald of St. Andrew's Episcopal.
ME: Who's Elizabeth Donald?
GROUP: *general laughter*

Later, Chair1 came up and grinned at me.

CHAIR1: You'll be great at that committee.
ME: *a Look*
CHAIR1: *chortle*
ME: I am such a rotten choice for that committee. My "motivational" style is pretty much kicking people in the ass.
CHAIR1: See? That's what we need!
ME: No, we don't! We need diplomacy. My diplomacy is pretty much, 'Shut up yer whining and do it.'
CHAIR1: See, you take that attitude, then you put it in more subtle terms...
ME: I'm a reporter! We don't do subtle!
CHAIR1: *grins* *does not erase my name*

At least I am happy to report my team raised a grand total of $1,715.17 for the American Cancer Society. Some of you had a lot to do with that. Thank you. And yes, we're starting right away for next year. The PayPal button is a permanent fixture on my web site.

And next year, please remind me to put my complaints down on the feedback form and SHUT THE HELL UP. Think they might forget this whole "motivational" thing by the time we kick off in January?