Step right up. Step right up. The circus opens at nightfall and closes at dawn.
Each year, SAFE bestows the Frankie Fowler Volunteer of the Year Award and honors award nominees. Last Saturday’s celebration, kicking off National Volunteer Week, was no exception for truly remarkable volunteers.
You step inside Le Cirque des Rêves and gaze upward at the black, white, and polka-dot tent, where upside-down umbrellas seem to float in midair. You grab a freshly popped bag of popcorn while the photographer in the corner transports you to a world of your choosing.
You make your way to the carnival food provided by The Steeping Room where you find rows of sandwiches and Mediterranean appetizers.
Langa, The Ringmaster of the afternoon, approached the stage to begin the festivities. She explained how Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace merged to create the dynamic organization SAFE.
It is the first year the staff came together as a single organization to honor the true magicians: the volunteers, who continued working hard and diligently through the transition.
The heroes who make SAFE possible
Robert Zepeda recognized SAFE Supportive Housing Program volunteer Carol Martin for her meticulous clerical work.
David Horning praised Ash Almonte, who goes above and beyond as a professional volunteer at the Austin Children’s Shelter Campus.
Community Education Volunteers Sarah Claytor-Gonzalez (not present) and Doyin Oyeniyi accepted the nominations for their hard work.
Malisa DiGiacomo sang (almost literally) the praises for “rockstar clerical volunteer” Susan Hillman.
Jessica Godwin recognized Karen Jambon for her dedication as a Care Academy Classroom Support Volunteer.
While Lisa Jones wasn’t available to accept her nomination in person, David Horning described her importance as a Teen Parent Program Cottage Support Volunteer.
Langa recognized the many incredible ways Mary Champagne volunteers her time, and not just in the food pantry at the shelter.
And the winner of this year’s Frankie Fowler Volunteer of Year Award goes to… (drum rolls, please) Chelsea Boundy, Sexual Assault Advocate Volunteer!
SAA Volunteer Supervisor Megan Morgan described the incredible ways in which advocates plan with, fight for, and comfort sexual assault survivors just days – possibly hours – after an assault. And Chelsea is not only one of the most senior advocates, but also one of the most active.
A community that supports us
Melinda Cantu, SAFE Vice President of Housing, Healing, and Support Services, stepped up to center stage to gush about the organization she so proudly works for and its volunteers. She opened up about the reason she first volunteered and worked magic of her own to bring the crowd to tears, as she’s wont to do every year.
Melinda also described the gratitude she has for the merging of the two wonderful teams. “We saw the impact we could have across the lifetime, how it’s all related, how we could do a better job,” she said. “It’s a lovely thing that we could come together under the tent… It’s because of you we have a safe community.”
There had to be one last magic trick before the afternoon came to its close. Three clowns from the Volunteer Leadership Committee began to draw numbers from the raffle for the most anticipated part of the show. And with the flick of a wrist, every volunteer who joined us that day was able to walk away with a door prize.
Now, there’s no pulling a dove out of a hat for this one. Austin has incredible companies who donated their services and goods in appreciation to the work the volunteers do in their community.
As the circus wrapped up and the tent doors closed, volunteers couldn’t help but wonder, what crazy adventure will we go on next year?
By Katie Grimmer