This year the 25+ Years Saturday Lunch Leadership Team wins the Inspire by Example Team Award. This group of leaders shares the task of managing the Saturday lunches, performing roles that would otherwise be done by staff members. The team members serve monthly.
“We are assigned our weekend to volunteer, and our calendars get written around that,” explains member of the team, Rick Thickens. “I don’t allow conflict,” Ricks says, explaining how his service has become a priority in his life.
Like most things, the team of volunteers started small. For the first few years of their service, the Thickens family volunteered a few times a year. “Then something clicked,” Rick remembered, “and we thought we’d like to do more. What can we do beyond volunteering once a quarter?”
Similarly Marge Gundrum, another Saturday lunch coordinator, remembers having the opportunity to volunteer at The Gathering as part of team with her parish. Then her parish closed in 1996.
“Now what do we do?” she remembers thinking. “We all looked at each other and said, this is what we do best, and so we continued to serve.” Years and years later, these same group of volunteers show up on their designated Saturday every month.
“We’ve developed relationships with our guests because we’re there every month and they know that,” explains Marge. The commitment to serving every month for over twenty five years created a community that spans across socioeconomic backgrounds. On Saturdays that Marge’s group serves, guests look for the “book lady,” the name given to a particular volunteer who brings children’s books each Saturday. The “book lady” and the rest of the volunteers are personalities the guests count on seeing each month.
The Gathering’s staff gives the lunch leadership team a menu and the food to cook each Saturday’s meal. Marge’s team has a special reputation, though. They are known as the “Rogue Group” for adding their personal touches to the meal. While they have that special reputation in particular, all of the volunteers go above and beyond to use a personal touch to serve quality meals and provide a hospitable environment for their guests.
The Gathering and its volunteers use the word “guests” on purpose in an effort to give the people they serve the dignity they deserve. They welcome them as if they were guests in their own home.
In fact, for Rick and Mary Thickens serving at The Gathering has indeed been an extension of their home. Rick fondly remembers his daughter, who now serves on the board of The Gathering as an adult, first volunteered as a six-year-old handing out sugar packets in the food line. Rick and Mary’s son also continues to serve with them as a cook.
Rick reminisces about his first lunch after being trained as a coordinator: “I remember spending huge amounts of psychic energy thinking, ‘Do I know what I’m doing?’ And then at the end of the meal, when everything went well, I thought “That’s it? That wasn’t hard.” Sometimes that first step in service is risky, but the blossom that can grow sure is sweet.
Theirs is a story of a whole team of volunteers starting small and growing to leadership positions. There was no original decision from the get-go to commit for the next 25 years. They just wanted to do more and never stopped doing it.
Join us in honoring all of the Inspire By Example award recipients at the 34th Annual Volunteer Celebration April 7, 2016, 11:30 AM - 01:00 PM CT at the Italian Community Center, 631 E. Chicago Street. Milwaukee, WI 53202. Click here to register online.