Editor’s Note: Donna Puhalovich is an Engagement Team Member of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
While sitting in a room full of more than 30 volunteers the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading had recruited to help fill 3,400 Kindergarten Readiness Bags, I started to wonder how this diverse group of people, who didn’t know each other, ended-up at our local technical college at 6:00pm on a Tuesday night. Many had come straight from work, some brought their kids to join them, there were high school students, some retired individuals, and one young mom with a baby strapped to her torso. This group was unfamiliar with the location, unfamiliar with each other, and some were even unfamiliar with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, except for what they had read online.
I am an analytical person. So I instinctively looked for a common thread. As I did, the first words that came to mind were heart, soul, and leaders, but I knew I was missing something.
The beginning of the evening was very quiet. I even tried making a few jokes, to get some of the new volunteers feeling comfortable. The initial awkwardness was quickly replaced, and by the end of the evening, this quiet group of people had connected. They were sharing stories and an easy sense of camaraderie. The work of filling the bags was augmented by conversation and genuine laughter and joy.
There it was … the common thread! Passion: they see, they acknowledge, they react. They do not “watch” the world; they are an active part of it. Yes, they have heart and soul, but so much more. As I watched the volunteers leave, shaking hands, exchanging phone numbers, and even hugging their new friends, I was energized by the authentic connections that had taken place. These volunteers had connected to shared community aspirations and each other.
Before the evening was over, a volunteer whispered in my ear that it was somebody’s birthday. Before I had witnessed the joy in the room, I may have questioned, “Who would want to spend their birthday with a room full of strangers, stuffing Kindergarten Readiness Bags for thousands of local students?”
After spending a few hours surrounded by this group of passionate volunteers, I understood why my new friend Joan would want to share her special day among this group of people working toward the common good.