By Zachary Barnes
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter
Volunteers have allowed Old Town to become what it is today, and are also the reason it remains such a vibrant community.
Whether it be the upcoming Taste and Tour of Old Town event where guests can sample food from various restaurants in the Old Town area while touring Old Town property or Oktoberfest where visitors can dance to their favorite polka song, Old Town is known for its festivals. Festivals continue to be the heart and soul of the community.
But with only one and half employees working for the Old Town Commercial Association, people dedicated to the growth of Old Town are a necessity to put on these events.
Without volunteers, there are no festivals, without any festivals there is no money for the neighborhood, without any money Old Town is back to a red light district.
“We rely heavily on volunteers. In order to have our festivals we need our volunteers to come down here and help us. Without volunteers coming down here we can’t really function our festivals,” said the Old Town Commercial Association Programming Director, Heather Mossing. “Moon and Sun and Oktoberfest [pay for] 70 percent of our budget down here at the Old Town Commercial Association. Without those we would probably not be here.”
Festivals, fueled by volunteers, are the reason residents or visitors will see any of the aesthetics and even things that seem very normal to a community.
“Things like the trashcans, that a lot of people assume that the city pays for and does are funded by various Old Town festivals. Festivals allow us to have trash cans and pay for them to be emptied every two weeks. We’d like to empty them every week,” said Jamie Schriner-Hooper, who has been working with Old Town for over 10 years and is a big part of the Sun and Moon festival.
“The flowers that we plant, the playground equipment we installed, things we do to help businesses, some of the free events, everything we do in the neighborhood, the festivals help us pay for those things.”
When people hear this, Schriner-Hooper says people are way more likely to give a few hours of time.
Why someone would ever want to volunteer at an event where there’s fun and drinking goes into a deeper sociological level according to professor Lindon J. Robison of Michigan State University who studies human motives.
“We distinguish between commodities which are goods thats have value because they satisfy a physical need and we talk about relational goods that have value because they satisfy emotional needs such as belonging and validation,” said Robison.
Many people like to feel that sense of belonging and that they are doing their part to help Old Town grow. Robison compared it to the likes of donating blood for free, it doesn’t make sense when you think about it, but it goes beyond earning a dollar amount or an object.
“For example if I could donate and receive no money, or I can sell it and receive money, why would I ever donate my blood? Is it because I’m irrational? No. It’s because you feel better about yourself, you’re approved on by others, you feel like you belong to a community and are connected to people,” Robison said. “These are intangible goods that are worth more than any amount.”
The same could be said for Old Town. One feels connected and better after volunteering according to Robison.
Like so many other things in Old Town, people just want to see the events grow, in turn allowing the Old Town Commercial Association to do more for the neighborhood.
“They (volunteers) show up because they know we really need them. And they see what an effect these events have on the neighborhood,” said Summer Schriner of Grace Boutique, who also sits on the promotions committee. “Things have grown so much down here (Old Town) in the last few years and I think when you’re apart of it you are watching it grow and you’re seeing a real return on your time.”
Volunteer opportunities don’t just end with big events.
“We also have other various volunteer opportunities such as weeding gardens and community clean up days,” said Mossing.
Schriner-Hooper said they could use any help they can get to help make Old Town look clean. Plus she added anyone can join an Old Town committee any time if they are passionate about something being done in Old Town.
You can contact Mossing, at the Old Town Commercial Association, about signing up to volunteer for the upcoming Taste and Tour event. You can access the Old Town website here.