The youth activities program at FMCA conventions requires many volunteer hours, but the rewards are great to those who give of their time.
By Corbett and Connie Pool, F140306
Co-Chairmen, Youth Activities Committee
As we prepare to celebrate FMCA’s 40th anniversary, we can’t help but think back to the association’s early years and how it has evolved. During our 12 years of involvement in FMCA, we have had numerous occasions to talk with many longtime members. We could sit for hours listening to them reminisce. In the beginning, the emphasis was definitely on family. In many cases, members converted a school bus, delivery van, or over-the-road bus into a fully self-contained motor coach that they used as a home-away-from-home on weekends or extended family outings. The family typically included many younger children, and a weekend rally featured a well-organized youth activities program wherein the older children supervised the younger kids in every conceivable outdoor game or activity. The bottom line was that the kids had a great time under the watchful eye of parents and older siblings.
As FMCA grew, the youth organization was formalized when the Teen-Age Travelers (TATS) was formed in July 1969, at the Traverse City, Michigan, convention. FMCA conventions began to include a youth program administered by volunteer family members. Today activities are offered for four different age groups “” TOTS (ages 2 to 5), TWEENS (ages 6 to 9), PRE-TEENS (ages 10 to 12), and TATS, or Teen-Age Travelers (ages 13 to 18). The TATS elect national officers.
Our initial encounter with the youth program was when we attended our first international convention with our daughter, Kelly, in the summer of 1991 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Kelly enjoyed the youth activities so much that we decided to attend the convention the following summer in Laramie, Wyoming. Those two conventions convinced us to get involved as youth volunteers with members of the Colonial Virginians chapter at the 1993 summer convention in Blacksburg, Virginia. We subsequently were appointed to the Youth Activities Committee and, with the exception of two years, continue to serve today.
During our involvement with the youth program we watched Kelly evolve from a shy, introverted 9-year-old to a very caring, outgoing teenager who served five years as a TATS officer, the last two as TATS president. One of Kelly’s greatest accomplishments was giving a speech at the general membership meeting held during the summer convention in Columbus, Ohio, in 1997. We can’t begin to describe the pride we felt as we sat in the audience that day and watched our confident, but nervous, 15-year-old deliver her first public speech. Her experiences in FMCA contributed immeasurably to her growth, and we are pleased to report that she will graduate from the University of Tennessee on May 10, 2003, and then join the workforce.
Our lengthy involvement with the FMCA Youth Activities Committee has given us the opportunity to watch many FMCA members’ children and grandchildren grow and develop into wonderful young adults.
At each convention, we set up youth centers “” areas where the kids can gather and enjoy supervised activities. During the 1990s FMCA began to hire temporary workers from the local area to help staff these centers. In addition, members of the 100%ers chapter began to volunteer for the youth registration area and to serve as chaperones for kids’ field trips and special events. The Friends of Children chapter was established and began to provide additional volunteers for convention youth activities.
At the Brunswick, Maine, convention in 2000, the Youth Activities Committee learned that we were not able to get as many temporary workers as we needed. Upon hearing of the shortfall, many family members pitched in to help members of the 100%ers chapter keep the youth centers open and to supervise the scheduled field trips.
In 2001 the Youth Activities Committee was informed that the insurance requirement for the temporary personnel dealing with children was cost-prohibitive. The committee decided to conduct the program using only volunteers. To do so, they had to do away with the youth centers. Members of the Governing Board who met in Redmond all remember when TATS first vice president Jennifer Jacobs, granddaughter of Kent and Betty Jacobs, F97114, pleaded with them to give the youth back their centers. The Governing Board unanimously agreed and directed the Executive Committee to do whatever was necessary to make that happen.
When Jeff Jefcoat, F118344, took office as FMCA president in Redmond, he appointed us again as co-chairmen of the Youth Activities Committee with the understanding that we would do whatever was necessary to re-establish the youth centers at the next convention. The insurance costs for temporary workers could not be overcome, which meant that we would have to put on the entire program with volunteers.
Many volunteer hours are required to work in youth registration, to staff the four youth activity centers, and to supervise the field trips. Volunteers working only a four-hour shift would not be enough. We decided to continue as we had in the past by asking members of the 100%ers chapter to volunteer. Each couple volunteered and normally worked the same shift; therefore, a couple would work eight hours (total) if each of them worked a four-hour shift. Because of the number of shifts needed, we asked each couple to work at least 16 hours.
With the approval of the Executive Committee and the Governing Board at the 2002 convention in Hutchinson, Kansas, we offered these volunteers a limited travel expense reimbursement if they worked 40 hours (20 hours each) or more. We reasoned that this was the least that could be done for a couple willing to give so much time and forgo taking part in other convention activities.
In March 2002 at the Perry, Georgia, convention, we offered the first youth program with youth centers staffed by volunteer workers only. Letters were sent out to members of the 100%ers and the Friends of Children chapters asking members to volunteer for 16 hours or 40 hours. Most of the 100%ers chapter volunteers stepped up and worked 16 hours. They, like many of us, have volunteered in other areas and cannot give additional time to one program. Several Friends of Children chapter members volunteered for the 40-hour requirements. With 37 youth registered, the system worked fine for us in Perry.
The October 2002 convention in Hutchinson was more of a challenge. Fewer people volunteered, and only 24 youth were registered for the program. However, we had advertised a full youth program with youth centers, so we had to have volunteers. Members of the 100%ers chapter continued to volunteer at Hutchinson but decided that it would be the last time the chapter would volunteer with the youth. The Friends of Children chapter members took the lead for volunteering, but this group currently has only 31 members. The Youth Activities Committee had to fill in the holes in the volunteer schedule, plus oversee the program. It is hard to justify asking volunteers to spend so much time to put on the youth program at a convention that is scheduled when most children are in school and so few can attend.
The convention in Pomona, California, this past March was encouraging, with more than 70 preregistered youth; however, only one couple, Jack and Polly Paterek, F215677, agreed to volunteer as a result of our mailing to previous youth volunteers. Many of the Friends of Children chapter members could not attend the convention. The Patereks convinced several friends from the FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity® to help. We also received help from another couple, Tom and Carol Januski, F266041, who had heard of our plight. Tom and Carol were so impressed with the program that they became involved with the Friends of Children chapter and were elected president and treasurer, respectively. In all, five couples worked more than 40 hours each to ensure the success of a program for the 52 children who ultimately participated. A highlight of the program occurred when we asked Jimmy and Debbie Adams, F271933, a young couple with three children (their 6-year-old and 3-year-old were enrolled in the program) if they would like to volunteer for a shift in the TOTS center. After some hesitation, they agreed. At the end of their shift, they were very excited about the program and joined the Friends of Children chapter. It is so encouraging to see a young family getting more involved in FMCA.
At the Buffalo, New York, convention this July, we are expecting more than 400 children to participate in the youth program. This means we will need volunteers for 131 four-hour shifts. If each couple can work two four-hour shifts, we will need a minimum of 66 couples. This number could be greatly reduced if couples volunteer to work 40 hours (20 hours each). Those who do so will be eligible to receive a limited travel expense reimbursement.
Our youth are our future, and this organization began with young families. Perhaps you, too, would like to remember the roots of FMCA and consider giving a few hours to our future. If you think you could handle a big hug from a child who would say “thanks” as only a child can, and make you an honorary “aunt” or “uncle,” give it a chance. It will be one of the most rewarding volunteer jobs you will ever perform at an FMCA convention. We, along with other members of the Youth Activities Committeee “” Barri and Rosemary Amor, F113404; Paul and Mary Dammers, F135857; and John and Jerri Morrow, F64569 “” extend an invitation to everyone who would like to help to please contact us at (865) 548-8836 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Safe travels.