Tag Archives: Volunteers

Honoring Volunteers in Birmingham through Ignite

“Volunteers are not paid…not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

This quote has been around for some time and I’ve heard it spoken over the years.  I’ve even used it myself when thanking volunteers for the work they’ve done to help at an event, nonprofit or other special occasion I’ve headed up or lead.  When people step up to help, they may not think it at the time, but they are making a difference that can be felt and seen in our communities.

Inaugural Ignite Volunteer Awards Ceremony on April 25, 2017 at The Club in Birmingham, AL.

Last year, Hands on Birmingham, United Way’s volunteer arm, created an event they named Ignite, to recognize and celebrate outstanding volunteer service.  Because it was a brand new event, I hadn’t heard much about it until my sweet friend Vanessa Vargas mentioned she had been asked to be on the host committee by the executive director, Benga Harrison.  Now, Benga is a powerhouse in our community and a great friend to me.  She is someone with so much passion that when she speaks to you, your own passion is ignited!  I kid you not!  When I heard the name of the event I thought it was a perfect reflection of her!  So, when I found out she was the driving force behind this event, I knew it would be a hit!

What I didn’t know at the time was that Vanessa was going to nominate me in the corporate/company category for this awards ceremony.  There were quite a number of people nominated in this category.  I surely wasn’t expecting anything to come of the nomination but to my surprise, I was one of two finalists!  The two finalists in each category received a special medal to wear at the brunch so they could be recognized to attendees, which was really a nice touch.  The other categories included Hands on Birmingham volunteer, government/community volunteer, nonprofit volunteer, student volunteer, small business volunteer, and faith based volunteer.

It was thrilling to be in a room filled with such wonderful community servants.  It was even more wonderful to actually know so many of these people who give so much.  Another reason for my excitement was due to the number of Hispanics nominees!  Hispanics were definitely represented at this event and of the six, three were finalists (me, Theresa Deleon, and Jairo Vargas) with one going on to win his category!  I was so pleased when Jairo Vargas, Publisher of Latino News, was announced as the winner in the small business category!  I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving and it was great being able to celebrate this honor with Jairo, his wife Lucero and of course, his daughter Vanessa!

For a first time event, the turnout was tremendous and the number of nominees in each category was so diverse.  I know Benga and the organizers were thrilled and ready to jump into year two of Ignite!  And on that note, Benga recently asked me to serve as the Chair of the Host Committee this year and I said yes!  I can’t think of a better way to give back to our community than to help nominate those who do so much to make it a better place for us all.

If you are in the Birmingham area and want to nominate a dedicated volunteer who has made a significant difference in Central Alabama, you have until November 30, 2017 to do so!  Click here for more information on how to submit your deserving community volunteer!  Then mark your calendar for the 2nd Annual Ignite Awards on April 17, 2018 at The Club Birmingham!

Fiesta 2017 – A Celebration of Generations!

Fiesta Co-Presidents, Teresa Zuniga Odom and Vanessa Vargas pose with the newly unveiled Fiesta 15th Anniversary – Quince – logo!

A Celebration of Generations…that’s what Fiesta 2017, the Quinceañera, was billed as and it definitely delivered!

Planning Fiesta has turned into a year-round job for our board of directors and our incredible event manager, Denise Koch.  In recent years, we’ve begun the planning process in November instead of waiting until February.  As the festival grows, this is a must in order to stay ahead of the game and also make sure we are offering our patrons new and exciting additions to the event each year.  We are a working board but everyone also has a day job too so…

Our Fiesta t-shirts this year – Fiesta…then Siesta!

During our anniversary years in the past, the board had a new logo created in celebration and we’ve looked for significant ways to make Fiesta more exciting.  Our 15th anniversary – Quinceañera – was quite a milestone so we really wanted to ramp thing up!  It was a coming of age of our festival!  Last November, the board decided that during our anniversary years, it would be beneficial to have co-presidents at the helm in order to share the work load.  Board member, Vanessa Vargas and I were voted in as co-Presidents which lent itself nicely to our theme – with Vanessa representing the younger generation – the daughter, and me representing the older generation – the mother.   The next month, over lunch with board member Lui Fernandez, the Fiesta theme was born which cemented our charge for Fiesta 2017 – “a celebration of generations!”  I remember getting goose bumps when Lui explained his ideas for the year and threw out the tagline!  Vanessa and I were so excited and ready to assume our roles as “Fiesta Mother and Daughter!”

Looking back on Fiesta 2017 and our path to Quince…I have to say…it was our best festival to date!  Every quadrant of Linn Park was filled and we had well over 100 tents in the park – a record for us.  Park Place, the road running on one side of the park, was also filled with the presence of the McDonalds Fiesta Tour which had rebranded and looked amazing!  McDonalds, our Title Sponsor, was also handing out slushie samples and I heard they ran out!  That’s a lot of people drinking slushies!!!

The weather was gorgeous all day long and I once again loved going from booth to booth to photograph friends – old and new –  and thank them for being a part of Fiesta’s Quince!  This year I had Vanessa with me for most of the visits and loved having that experience with her.  I also really can’t remember a time when we had as much pre-publicity for our event!  Vanessa and I were booked on every station and one radio station leading up to the event.  At one point during the festival, Vanessa and I had “dueling TV interviews” going on in the VIP section!  Vane was talking to CBS and I was talking to NBC.   We always had a great time with Claire Per-Lee of Style Advertising (Fiesta’s Advertising Agency) at each interview and she always photographed and videoed so we could have that memory.  She made each appearance so easy for us complete with talking points and props needed for the interview.  Claire, Vanessa and I were in such constant contact in the weeks leading up to Fiesta that it’s a little weird not getting several text messages a day from each other now!

Everywhere I looked at this year, sponsors and nonprofits were doing a great job of reaching patrons and drawing them in.  Swag from these booths was over the top!  There was just SO much activity all over the park that it was hard to catch it all.  That’s when I know we’ve hit a home run!   We always throw sponsor items from the stage, but this year we really ramped it up and the crowd loved it!  We’ve done this before but not to this level.

Throwing swag from the stage!

Volunteers…I can’t say enough about volunteers in general.  They can make or break your event. It you’ve been involved with events, you know this.  For Fiesta though, we’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who have the spirit of the event at heart.  This year I wasn’t able to secure a volunteer coordinator for this festival so I took on the task myself.  And I was a little worried, I have to admit…especially with all the other responsibilities I had leading into Fiesta.  That is…until I got a message from a Spanish teacher Charity Jackson at Parker High School.  She said she had about 15-20 students who wanted to volunteer!  I was ecstatic!!!  And then she contacted me and said she had more students who wanted to volunteer!  By the time I had the volunteer schedule pulled together two days before the event, she had 35 students committed to working at Fiesta!  Ms. Jackson kept thanking me for having them at Fiesta but I told her several time that she really saved “me” by having her students there.  They were incredible…and so was she!

Spanish Teacher Charity Jackson with her students from Park High School – these kids were the best volunteers!

There are so many more stories about Fiesta 2017 that I could tell…but as I have done in the past, I think it’s best shown in photos.  If you came out to Fiesta, thank you…from the bottom of my heart for sharing our Quince with us!  If you weren’t able to be there…for whatever reason, I hope you enjoy a walk through our Quince in these photos!

 

Birmingham Chinese New Year Festival – Part 2

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Amy Chen and I cut the ribbon to officially open the Chinese New Year festival in 2008.

This is the second of a three-part post about the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association and the annual Chinese New Year Festival.

In 2008, the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association (BCFA) made the big decision to move the Chinese New Year festival into Boutwell Auditorium.  This venue gave the festival the opportunity to expand entertainment and use the large stage in the venue.  And now, since the second year, the Boutwell has been the home of the festival and the main stage continues to be a focal point.

The tradition of having a ribbon cutting along with greetings from a representative of the City of Birmingham continues each year as well.  During the 2nd year, I had the honor of opening the festival along-side BCFA Vice-President, Amy Chen!  After we ceremoniously cut the red ribbon, the BCFA Drum and Dragon team performed and then lead a parade of people into the auditorium.  It was quite a site!  So many people and so many new sponsors came out this year to enjoy the food, fun, activities and the stage performances.

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Chinese New Year at The Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama

 

Once again, Amy led the way in acquiring tradition Chinese costumes to be featured on the stage.  Another stage highlight was a Chinese acrobat troupe, direct from China, that performed.  They were incredible and the women performers had me wanting to get back to the gym and work on my upper arm strength!!!  Other popular booths included kids activities, games and having a phrase or your name written in Chinese characters.

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One of the female performers from China at the Chinese New Year Festival. She was simply amazing!

 

One of the things I loved seeing was the sea of volunteers in coordinated Birmingham Chinese Festival Association t-shirts.  Call me a nerd or organization freak, but that really added to the “color” of the event.  AND, everyone began asking where they could get one!  I may have told someone it was an “ancient Chinese secret!”

It was estimated that over 5,000 people attended the 2nd year.  And with the close of year two, it was safe to say the festival was a secret no more!

Part 3 will showcase some of my favorite photos from the past 9 years, especially the festival this past weekend where I got to meet  Confucius!  Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the first Boutwell event.

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This gentleman was writing phrases and people’s names in Chinese characters.

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The drum group performed at the opening ceremonies. They are wearing the festival t-shirts that everyone wanted!

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Amy and I get ready to cut the ribbon – I believe I was saying to her here – “are you ready?”

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The Dragon Dance leads everyone into the festival after the ribbon cutting!

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Walked up on a Mahjong game at the festival. My mother had a mahjong set when we lived in Thailand and I always loved playing with her and her friends as a little girl.

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The Dragon at the festival always seems so real to me…especially the way he tilts his head.

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These sweet children were intrigued by a presentation at the festival. They arrived dressed in Chinese costume.

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The amazing Amy Chen introduces the Chinese costume fashion show.

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BCFA President, Allan Staib and Vice-President, Amy Chen, speak to the audience after the fashion show.

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Chinese acrobat shows off her talent!

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