At the start of the school year, I was fired up to be involved. My son, Christian, got into Kindergarten at our #1 school of choice and I wanted to find a way to "give back". I hoped that maybe there would be some place in the volunteering needs where I could use my experience as an Event Planner and Designer. I showed up to that first meeting, all ready to raise my hand. They passed out a sheet that had available positions open and I immediately noticed that "Carnival Chair" was wide open. Now, I know this is a big position, but I got excited, because it's exactly along the lines of what I do. Never mind that I've never specifically planned a "Carnival" or that as a Kindergarten parent I barely know a soul at the school... So, low and behold, they get to the portion of the meeting where they are doing a call for volunteers. People seem hesitant, and some reluctantly agree to take on positions. The mention of "Carnival Chair" comes up and I shoot my hand into the air, "I want to do it!" I practically shout. Everyone stares at me in shock for a moment. I think someone said, "Really?!" "Yes!" I said, "I'm really into it, it would be a lot of fun." You could see the room visibly relax. Well....7 months later, I know EXACTLY why. That sucker is a hell of a lot of work on probably one of the biggest, if not THE biggest fundraiser of the year. Um hmm. Flashback: I practically shouted, "I want to do it!"
Well, 300+ hours of free labor later, and...we had a Carnival. It was on Saturday. And it was spectacular.
I will admit that for a stretch of time, I was thinking that I was in over my head. I didn't have enough people helping, and I was doing too much on my own. I wanted to delegate, but I just didn't know enough people to say, Hey, I need some help here. I relied on the parents who had gone before me and who did know people and they were amazing. I called on my friends and my business partner and even my ballet students! I learned how to say, Help! I need help! and when someone asked how they could help, I was ready with a task or two or three.
I made changes to some of the carnival plans they have used in the past because I thought a few things might work better: I thought that even though it would cost a little more, that we needed a "Main Stage" area, that was a tented, covered area for the kids to perform their practiced songs. The school has never had any shade, and considering that the carnival takes place every year in April, it is often hot- last year was brutally so. The parent who was going to MC/DJ the event, had suggested a live auction and although it was just too late in the game to have any large live auction items, I came up with the idea to make 2 dimensional wood "surfboards" out of plywood, paint them different colors and then have all of the grades put their handprints on the surfboards. We would have one for each grade. Then, we would auction them all live at the carnival. This way, if they didn't go for much money, it wouldn't be too big of a deal. It wouldn't be embarrassing like a donated Hawaii trip only getting $200. So, we all agreed to give it a try and I set out to get these things made.
My business partner's Dad came through for me and cut all of the surfboards (Thank you, Larry!!), then I set to getting them painted. My vision was to stick with the color scheme I had designed to go with the theme I had come up with: California Adventure Carnival, with shades of blue, green, yellow and orange. Here's the first step:
Just about the time I was freaking out and feeling very exhausted and deflated by the whole carnival planning process, I began step #2: Getting the handprints on the surfboards. I set out with my small team of 4-6 ladies, and on a Monday morning, we stopped into each class, took a few minutes of their class time and got the kids handprints onto the boards.
The interactions I witnessed within those classrooms were nothing short of astounding and beautiful. Our school is a full inclusion model, which means that kids of all abilities- from those who are gifted to those who have special needs all learn in the same classrooms. Because they all grow up with each other, they don't see "difference" the way we adults do. They see each other as individuals. It's not "So-and-so" in a wheelchair. It's Joey who loves rock music and wearing hats. It's not "That girl" who has Down syndrome. It's Sophie who has a great sense of humor and loves Justin Bieber. I saw a handful of interactions of typically developing kids that weren't helping out a classmate because they had special needs, but were helping out a classmate, because they were friends. I was humbled and it confirmed for me just how important it is that my son, Christian is at this school. He needs this. He needs to be around all kinds of different so that he will grow up a responsible and compassionate adult. Nevermind what this school will mean for Elijah when he gets there. It will be great for him too. But, right now, I see the benefit more specifically for my typically developing child. My little surfboard project helped put all of the hours of carnival planning into perspective: This is what this is all for. This is for the kids. These kids- these warm and compassionate kids. I had a whole new second wind...
Phase 2 of the surfboard project:
We finally made it to Saturday. The weather was cooperating perfectly- even a slight chill to the air, instead of the dreaded 90 degrees. Weather reports called for a high of 72 with a cloudy morning, and a sunny break through around 2pm, and that is exactly what happened. Everything came together pretty smoothly, and I fought my typical "Type A, perfectionist" work ethic and mumbled my mantra: It's a Carnival.
I had no time or equipment (I forgot my camera...although I doubt I could have carried it around all day) to take quality pictures, but here are a few...
My beloved Entrance, with my handmade palm tree (Charles did the tree trunk and I did the leaves), the banner that a carnival committee member pulled out of her hat last minute, and the finished surfboard project (Oh yeah...and my cutie, Christian in his carnival tshirt):
I sent little pennant flags home with every single student in the school to decorate with their favorite thing about California and then strung them up around the main stage area. They looked really, really cute and this photo definitely doesn't do them justice.
The "back of the bleachers" project. Every year, the carnival committee covers the back of the bleachers with cardboard and paints something decorative on it. It was a BIG job and I was pretty skeptical that it could look good, but I created a simple "Walk of Fame" look for our bleachers and it came out okay...
We had games and food and crafts...like potting a plant. (Here, two volunteers showing a Kindergartner how to plant one...)
We had face painting... (The Principal did the face painting on the right. Talent beyond her job set, right?)
Then, we had - for the first time in the history of the school and my pride and joy: a Ferris Wheel!!! I didn't know if I could pull it off, but I found just the right size and it was a hit all day long! The "dunk tank" which featured a toilet that dumped water on someone's head if you hit the lever just right, was staffed by some of the school's teachers and administrators. Those people are rock stars in my book. It was even a little chilly when we started, but they rallied anyway.
My hubby Charles showed up with Elijah in the afternoon and even took the little guy for a ride on the Ferris Wheel. He loved it and I totally melted!! It might have been the cutest thing I've EVER seen...
I couldn't help but grin ear to ear as I walked the campus watching everyone enjoy themselves so much. It was everything I hoped for. Oh..and those little surfboards? Well, the MC auctioned them off, and all in all they went for almost $3000!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When the first surfboard auctioned off for $550, I was jumping up and down and screaming like a lunatic. I was SO excited! I expected they would sell for $50...maybe $80, so to see them appreciated for the sentimental quality (all of the hand prints) and the craftsmanship (Come on...who doesn't like a cute surfboard?), I was ecstatic.
The carnival came to a close with hundreds of people still hanging out and dozens of people chipped in to help put things back in place. I was amazed at the community of people who were there to help. Although it may have been difficult in the planning to process to find and get help, the day-of was well in hand. The school has a definite sense of community and everyone pulled together to make sure things were back in place for school to resume on Monday. I had many people come up to me and thank me for all of the work I did...and I'm not gonna lie: It was A LOT of work. But, the appreciation was very much...well, appreciated. A thank you goes a long, long way. So, even though many of these people probably don't even know my blog exists, I am going to thank some people who chipped in and gave me a hand along the way:
Karen, Charles, Amy, Tom, Dan, Shannon, Tomiko, Lori, Kathy, Denise, Larissa, Sarah, Tiffany, Katie, Kerstyn, Sophie, Michele, Emi, Sara, Robin, Liz, Kelly, Paula, Stacy, Julie, Larry, Katherine, and my Mom- both for moral support and helping to watch the boys so I could fulfill my responsibilities! Thank you, thank you- for all being such an amazing support and willing to take time out of your life to help me in my volunteering efforts. Your help is sincerely appreciated.
And...lastly, to "Arthur", who sent me the nasty email about "How disappointed" you were that I was doing things differently? You suck. Period. You really don't get to have a nasty opinion when you haven't picked up even a pinky finger to help. There. I feel better already. I turned the other cheek to Arthur's nasty email and did not respond...which was probably the most adult thing I could do. However, I am happy to take this passive-aggressive moment to stick out my tongue and waggle my fingers at him on my public blog. :)
And, now, I plan to put my feet up and take a deep, relaxing breath. It's over and when I go back to my email, there will not be 100 new emails all with the title "Carnival" in them....