This past weekend I volunteered at the 2009 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Central Park. I signed up through an ad posted to Craigslist about two or three months ago, and completely forgot about it until I received a letter in the mail reminding me to show up. Not that I wasn’t aware of the walk or it being Breast Cancer Month, I just forgot that I signed up to participate. It being the same weekend of the New York Cares Day event I did one day prior, I was worried that I wouldn’t really feel up to volunteering all day outside. My apprehension aside, I made a commitment so I was going. Come hell, high water, or unseasonable cold temperatures and rain, perfect for sleeping in.
So, on Sunday the 18th, I was up by 6am and heading into Central Park by 7. It was about 35 degrees out and raining, and somehow, my socks were already wet. I was not happy. But once I got to the 72nd St Bandshell in the park, I realized how big this event is and how important it is to so many people, and I quickly changed my attitude. There were tents set up with different promotional items for sale, and a huge pink tent with a banner that read ‘Welcome Survivors’. I headed over to check in with the other volunteers, put on my XL volunteer t-shirt, and had a bagel and coffee (provided by Tim Hortons) while the sun came up. I was concerned that having signed up on Craigslist, the process of getting oriented and ready for thousands of people to arrive would be chaotic and unorganized. I should’ve known that a huge organization like the American Cancer Society would not only have things under control, but the volunteers would be led with military precision. Whether assisting with set-up, checking in walkers, or passing out water along the route, all of the volunteers seemed to be comfortable with what they were doing, as if they had been doing it for years (some of them had, in fact, been doing it for years)
I was assigned to the registration and online check-in tents. There were mini-orientations for volunteers as they arrived: when about 7 or 8 people got to the tent, a lead volunteer or staff member would tell us what we would be doing, and send us each to our location for the day. I was to direct the walkers to the appropriate place as they arrived, depending on whether or not they had registered online, were with a group, etc. Having studied the map of the event footprint before the walk started, I was also able to give people directions to event areas or park exits and subways. I assumed the weather would deter people from attending and was prepared to deal with cranky, wet participants, impatiently waiting on line. Once again, I was wrong. Not only did 20,000 people show up, but they were happy to be there. No one was running for shelter from the rain, or complaining about the cold. Droves of people continued to arrive for the rolling start from about 830 to 11am. The music played on and some people danced their way to the starting line. Groups of high school and college students waited, taking pictures and cheering. Every time a survivor registered or checked in for the walk, a team of volunteers would begin ringing cowbells and cheering, which incited sporadic cheers all morning from walkers, volunteers, and staffers alike. By the end of the day, the Making Strides in Central Park walk raised over $2,400,000.
On their website, the The American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer writes that they provide “a community for all of us to join together with a shared passion to end breast cancer once and for all. Together, we will make a difference, make history, and make strides against breast cancer.” At this event, I really did sense that this was a community; of women, families, children, coworkers, people from all walks of life, supporting one another. It wasn’t just a fund raiser; it was a day dedicated to paying tribute to anyone affected by breast cancer, and a day to recognize that no one has to go it alone. I was proud to be a part of it, and look forward to next year’s Walk.
To see if there is an event coming up in your area, or to make a donation, visit the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer homepage by clicking here. You can also check to see what volunteer opportunities the American Cancer Society has by clicking here.