Get Out and Give Back: Decorative Charity

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington offer a variety of programs to keep you in and get you out of your comfort zone.
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The girls from the Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic site of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington rock their handmade napkin rings.

Good news! The Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic site of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW) in Old Town Alexandria let me volunteer with them, but it was a hurried, last minute request on my part. I really appreciated that they squeezed me in, but was at the mercy of their immediate volunteer needs. With all of the programs and projects that the BGCGW offered, what would I do?

, the program director, greeted me from her desk near the front door. Technically her office is located on the third floor, but she likes to work in the middle of the kid’s chaos. Several dozen boys and girls whizzed by her, busy with homework, sports and preparing for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner the following day.

They had already created placemats, written gratitude cards and hung a huge “Happy Thanksgiving” banner to display across the dining area. Patrice wanted the kids to create another craft project for all of the moms and dads who would be there tomorrow.

“How good are you in arts and crafts?” she asked me.

Memories of glue and popsicle stick nighmares from summer camp flashed before my eyes.

“Great,” I lied. “What do you need?”

Patrice showed me the computer room where I began the internet search for the world’s easiest Thanksgiving craft project (I knew the kids could do it; it was me I was worried about). I eventually came across the winner: creating napkin rings out of construction paper and yarn.

, a volunteer and Patrice’s best friend, led me to an impressively large and well-stocked craft room. Still wearing her WMATA sweater, Marian spends all of her spare time at the Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic site when she’s not driving a city bus. She gave me 20 minutes to organize and then sent down six girls between second and fourth grade.

“Only six girls,” she said. “I don’t want to overwhelm you.”

The girls loved making the napkin rings. Glue sticks, yarn, paper and scissors flew for the next hour. Almost immediately they bypassed single-colored yarn to twist and braid them together, making some quite striking napkin rings. They signed the inside of the paper rings to prove the authenticity of their original creations.

They were fast, too. When it was time for them to leave, they had created nearly 20 napkin rings, just enough to place strategically around the dining room the following day.

The girls were remarkably confident, self-assured and friendly, singing songs together and helping each other out. “Will you join us tomorrow for the dinner?” they asked me over and over.

“Sorry,” I told them. “I’ll be in Maryland tomorrow watching my grandson.”

They told me to bring him with me. I thought about it for a second then decided that hauling a baby on a 40-minute car ride to a cafeteria full of 200 strangers wasn’t a good idea.

About 400 kids belong to this particular BGCGW club, with up to 80 kids there at any one time. The club had three floors, a full basketball court, kitchen, game room and classrooms. All Boys & Girls Club of America programs and five core areas center around character and leadership development, career and education development, health and life skills, sports, fitness and recreation, and the arts.

The 21 clubs that comprise BGCGW stretch 75 miles from Fredericksburg to Germantown and their volunteer list has 72 needs (listed here) from which to choose.

Patrice emailed me a few days after the dinner, saying, “Thank you for your contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner. The napkin rings were perfect and very original. The girls carefully rolled forks knives and spoons in napkins and then inserted them in each of the napkin rings. We hosted 200 or more family members and visitors. It was such a beautiful time for all who attended to meet volunteers, staff friends and family.”

Maybe taking a baby there would have been a good idea after all.

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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