I didn’t know what to expect…It was my first week as a member of the Free Arts team, and I found myself standing inside a ramada at Scottsdale’s MacDonald’s Ranch. The Free Art’s staff and volunteers, wearing their bright blue “Art Heals” shirts, darted around as they checked in the corporate volunteers. The companies were many: CSAA Insurance Group, Desert Schools, Express Scripts, Republic Services, Albertson’s Companies, AAM, Bank of America, ON Semi, Wells Fargo Bank, Al Dias Group, American Family Insurance, Edward Jones, Quicken Loans, AAA and American Airlines. They came in groups, identified by their matching t-shirts. Their excitement was palpable as they waited for the children. Over 200 volunteers paired up, waiting to meet their buddies.
The buses pulled up, and the excitement rose. Slowly, the children walked down the bus steps as volunteers lined up. They were about to meet their friend for the day. Over 100 children from 5 of our partner agencies, including Child Crisis Arizona and Children’s First Leadership Academy Charter School, looked out as they descended the steps. For many of them, it was the first time that they had seen horses and other farm animals close up. One by one, the children met their volunteer mentors for the day. Some took a little coaxing to warm up, others greeted their new friends with a hug.
Off the trios went, exploring the grounds and marveling at all there was to do. Some headed straight for the petting zoo, where hungry goats awaited their treats in edible cones. Some kids, holding their volunteer mentors’ hands, headed toward the gold mine, eager to get their hands wet as they panned for gold. For the adventurous ones, the hay wagon called to take them out to the pumpkin patch where kids got to pick a pumpkin to decorate and take home with them.
Walking the ranch, I was taken aback by the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteer mentors. I watched as children ran from activity to activity. I listened as volunteer mentors cheered on the kids as they played soccer with pumpkins. All the while, the Free Art’s staff and volunteers carted around snacks and water while checking in to make sure everything was alright.
At the end of the day, everyone gathered in the ramada for lunch. Each child had beads and a string to make a necklace with their volunteer mentors. “Tell me, what does friendship mean to you,” a volunteer asked her paired child. “For each bead, give me something you like to see in a friend,” she continued. The boy strained his face and then brightened up as he rattled off a list. He finished by stating he wanted a friend, just like his new buddy. I smiled. This is the reason I always wanted to work for Free Arts. This was the reason I was lucky to witness the day. I look forward to what the next Free Arts Day brings. Here’s to memories like these!. – Neda (Outreach Manager)