By Jamie Andrew
When I moved to Portland, I was fresh out of art school: wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, and full of ideas about my seemingly endless future. I landed an AmeriCorps position at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, where I grew from an art student (“What? You mean I can’t spend eight hours a day drawing in my studio? You mean I have to go back to work for five days in a row?”) to a full-fledged working professional: Educator and Volunteer Coordinator here at CMTM.
Portland is unlike any place I have ever lived: seagulls squawk outside my window every morning, every other car is a Subaru with a kayak strapped to the top, and in June the sun is up at four a.m., which somehow makes it possible for me to go for a jog at 5:30 (January, however, is a different story). I dearly love all of these things about life in our cozy little city, but there’s something I love even more: everyone who lives here.
Never before have I lived in a community that feels so tight-knit. I mean, where else can you walk three blocks and run into seven people that you know? And even more than simply being tight-knit (which can, admittedly, sometimes morph into gossip: “You saw them where?”), Portlanders care about each other. They care about what goes on in this little city. How do I know this? Easy: I’m a Volunteer Coordinator.
Last month, CMTM and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad partnered to put on this event known as “The Polar Express.” Sound familiar? It’s a beloved book to many of us, a fantastical movie to others. Now imagine the story delivered by child actors, riding one of those antique train cars, with real Hot Chocolate Chefs hand-serving you cups of whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate as you make your way to the North Pole. Imagine this event running every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Pretty magical, no? Now imagine being the Volunteer Coordinator for the event, recruiting, managing, and supervising upwards of 150 volunteers. Magical, indeed.
Here’s the thing: everyone wanted to help out. My recruitment strategies might have facilitated things (“Did you ever read the Polar Express when you were a kid?”), but really, truly, people stepped up to the plate in a way that I could only have dreamed of. I had everyone from SMCC students to CEOs of local businesses scrubbing crusty pots of burnt cocoa, donning chef hats and packaging cookies. Even our Santa Clauses voluntarily wore fake beards and red velvet suits for hours at a time (and we all know how well polyester velvet breathes). And you know what? Pretty much everyone sang along to “Santa Baby” when it came on the radio, danced (or at least waved) when the train pulled up and left with big smiles behind their scarves and hats. For one month, I was elbow-deep in chocolate milk, train schedules, and more holiday cheer and generosity than I ever could have imagined. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Did everyone pitch in? Yes. Does Portland care? Yes.
So thank you, Portlanders who volunteer. You are the reason our city is a vibrant, creative, welcoming little place. I feel lucky to call myself a resident.
Jamie Andrew is the Visitor Guide / Volunteer Coordinator at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine and a guest blogger.