Tag Archives: volunteerism

The International Choral Festival

The International Choral Festival marked its debut in 1987. That year was memorable on two accounts; it was also the year I became a mother. Following the success of the first Festival, a second followed three years later. So, too, did the arrival of our second son.

Though anticipating the birth of our first child during the inaugural Festival and being sleep deprived during the second, it was welcome respite to listen to choirs in various locations around Missoula. Since then, we have enjoyed the diversity of the choirs and their music in this triennial event.

The Ninth International Choral Festival was held July 17-20. For the first time, Rich and I served as hosts. We didn’t request a specific age group, sex, or country on our volunteer application. Instead, the thrill of the unknown we felt while awaiting the births of our children was magnified fourfold. Will our guests be males or females? Adults or youth? Where will they be from? Will they speak English?

We learned the answers to our first three questions days before the Festival began. We’d be hosting three young women from Taiwan’s Formosa Singers.

Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall
Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall

Our fourth question was answered when we met Lin Ying-Jyun, Fan Chih-Jung, and Li Szn Fang—AKA Amy, Tiffany, and Rainbow Amy—at Missoula Children’s Theater. Yes.

Hosting Tiffany, Amy, and Rainbow was a treat beyond measure. Sprinkled between rehearsals and concerts, we prepared and shared meals, sang, laughed, and enjoyed learning about their culture while sharing some of our own.

Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM
Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM

We reveled in seeing Missoula’s beauty through the eyes of our guests…

Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer's Market
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer’s Market

…and at times we were guests, both at Festival events and at a fellow host family’s home for an evening filled with food and drink, laughter and song.

The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyrone
The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyron

In addition, the Formosa Singers prepared a luncheon for their host families, introducing us to some tasty Taiwanese dishes and affording us an opportunity to visit with other choir members and hosts.

Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice
Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice

The final day of the Festival fell on my birthday. There were so many moments of sweetness throughout the day, highlighted by the card the girls made for me with its inscription, Dear Mom.

A special birthday card
A special birthday card
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party

“When are you coming to Taiwan?” our girls asked, more than once during our time together.

“Maybe in 2014.”

That hope lessened our sadness—somewhat—as we shared tearful goodbyes when our days together ended much too quickly.

The connectedness of our world was affirmed that day, though. As our girls left Missoula, our son Colin spent four hours in Taiwan enroute to Thailand. And according to a recent article in the Missoula Independent, Whistling Andy Distillery in Bigfork is going to be selling spirits in Taiwan.

If Rich and I are fortunate enough to visit our Taiwanese daughters someday, perhaps one of our toasts will be with a Made in Montana spirit. Full circle, indeed.

National Day of Service

On January 19, 2013, I, along with others nationwide, responded to President Obama’s call to action to serve as a volunteer for the National Day of Service. I was the first volunteer to arrive that morning at The Parenting Place, a community-based non-profit whose mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect through strengthening families.

After welcoming me, staff member Megan asked, “What organization are you with?”

“I’m not with an organization,” I said, explaining I’d signed up through the National Day of Service website. I didn’t tell her the rest of the story: I’d been a volunteer in various capacities since my teenaged years, but this was the first time my volunteerism had included the possibility of winning a trip to D.C. for a presidential inauguration.

Megan directed me to an office to store my coat. As I headed in that direction, I heard her tell her co-worker, “They don’t know each other.”

The rest of the group, five women and four children, trickled in. After brief introductions, we posed for a photo before settling in to work. 

iserve: Margie, Rebecca, Josie, Betsy, Karen, Carla, Linda, Aydin, Nicholas, and Nico (not pictured: photographer Katie).

Strangers at the onset, we learned of our connectedness as our day progressed.

Book lovers Aydin, a second grader; his brother, Nicholas, a third grader; and I were tasked with the job of cleaning and organizing the library. I enjoyed chatting with the boys about books, authors, and illustrators.

When Aydin pulled an Eric Carle book off a shelf he said, “Oh, my teacher would love this book!”

“Who’s your teacher?” I asked.

“Mrs. Dungan.”

I smiled. Kathy Dungan teaches at the elementary school my sons, Eric and Colin, attended. She is our friend and neighbor, and had been to our house for dinner the previous weekend. We’ve shared many conversations about education, books, and reading throughout the years.

Parenting Place library
Karen, Nick and Aydin on library duty

Carla—mother of Aydin; Nicholas; and Katie, a sixth grader and our photographer extraordinaire,—sang Kathy’s praises as she described how she has facilitated educational opportunities for Aydin that meet his abilities. We shared our mutual admiration for the 1st and 2nd grade multiage classrooms that my boys, and now Aydin, have benefited from.

The Parenting Place
Carla disinfecting with Simple Green

Linda brought her four-year-old son, Nico, to help. They were champions in converting a back room into a space designated for babies and toddlers. Nico, Aydin, Nicholas and Katie did a wonderful job serving as game testers, too.

The Parenting Place
Linda washing the small pieces and parts
The Parenting Place
Nico, master toy-sorter

Josie and Margie organized the art supplies, then Josie and I moved to the puzzle and game nook. We discovered that Josie’s daughter and my son Eric served as AmeriCorps volunteers 2011-2012 for City Year, an organization dedicated to keeping students in school and on track for graduation.

Craft nook at the Parenting Place
Josie cleaning and sorting the art supplies

While enjoying a bagel, I learned that Betsy’s daughter was packing to leave for a study abroad program the following day. Talking about the challenges of limiting luggage to “fifty pounds for six months,” I shared our experience of weighing Eric’s suitcase—also with a fifty-pound weight limit—on our veterinarian’s scale before he set out for twelve months in Argentina.

The Parenting Place kitchen
Betsy making the kitchen sparkle

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

We served together, children and adults, to honor President Obama and the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. No one in our group won the trip to D.C., but we were grateful for the opportunity to serve. We began our day as strangers. We ended it as friends.