Sunday, April 28, 2013

How running can be a special kind of volunteering

To bring our celebration of 2013 National Volunteer Week to a close, we asked one of our Dive Staff, John Hanzl, to share his insights on volunteerism and the new service program he was able to launch this fall. Read on for more information relating to a truly dedicated group of 20 volunteers who have donated their minds, bodies and dollars in service to the New England Aquarium for the last several months. 

Having just celebrated National Volunteer Week, I decided to look up the meaning of the word volunteerism.  Though my own career at the New England Aquarium started as a volunteer thirteen years ago, I never really thought too much about the actual act of volunteering.

This is what volunteering looks like: Runners on the Aquarium's marathon team running the Boston Marathon

The American Heritage Dictionary defines volunteerism as “the use of, or reliance on, volunteers, especially to perform social or educational work in communities.” I was amazed by the personal connection those words had for me, as for the past four months I had the privilege of being part of the process of getting the Aquarium to become a charity for the Boston Athletic Association, and of fielding a team of twenty truly amazing and unique individuals to run the 117th Boston Marathon.

The team convenes in the athletes village at the starting area in Hopkinton

Now one might ask, how does a team of marathon runners represent “social or educational work in communities?” It’s because these runners have banded together from all corners of the globe (even as far away as Australia) to be part of the Aquarium’s marathon team. And they’ve done this not only to share the experience and camaraderie of training for, and running in, the Boston Marathon, but to help raise funds for the Aquarium’s school and community programs, which reach over 47,000 children every year in diverse communities throughout Massachusetts.

Though every one of these runners has a story to tell, a unique experience to share – of personal strife and triumph, of self doubt and of overcoming those doubts – it’s their collective desire to become ambassadors for the Aquarium’s mission, and their boundless enthusiasm in support of that desire that embodies the true meaning of volunteerism.

Aquarium marathon team members help during a
Whale Day event at a local school, an outreach
program supported in part by the runners' fundraising.
Over the course of the past four month of relentless training and fundraising, these 20 runners have dedicated over 1,800 hours of their time and have raised over $98,000 for the Aquarium’s outreach programs. They have truly become advocates for our mission, and each and every one of them have helped to bring inspirational programming to schoolchildren all over the state. They have truly become a “band of brothers (and sisters!)”

So as a way of thanking our Aquarium marathon team for exemplifying so perfectly the meaning of volunteerism, I turn to our team motto and say, “Go Fish!”

— John Hanzl

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