No, we did not find ourselves at the Salem YMCA on accident that evening - we were there with a purpose, on a mission, plan at hand, premeditated and within reason. My friends and I had agreed to volunteer to help with the YMCA's annual kids' Halloween party and sleep-over. Though we were not really big on volunteer work, nor kids, when the opportunity made itself open to Willamette University's Circle K club, it sounded like a fun way to spend Halloween. And it was.
Once at the YMCA we were each paired up with a child, between 8 and 12 years old, who we would be "in charge of" for the evening. Kid (all names have been changed to protect the fact that I don't remember their real ones), who was entrusted to me, was around 10. While we waited for other children to show up, we played a rather poorly played round of 8-ball (neither of us were adept at wielding a cue stick), and then he rushed into his costume. He looked, when dressed up, for all intents and purposes, like a kid dressed up in a Halloween costume, and that's exactly how I remember him - not as anything in general, but definitely dressed up as something. He was a nice kid, not a big talker and kinda missing his mom, but we got along famously for the evening, especially once he was dressed up.
Other boys and girls appeared, each a unique manifestation of cloth, glitter, wigs, and face-colorings. Soon, the vans were rolled out front and the children boarded. We followed in a car as the vans sped (figuratively) for West Salem, back along a dirt road through the forest to a cabin that the Y keeps nestled back there. Everyone was ushered into the cabin, where a fire was going (in the fireplace), popcorn was being popped, and the fun and games were beginning. In one corner of the large main room which was the cabin, a face-painting table was set up. In another, a ring-toss (with prizes of cookies and candy). An alcove held the "fishing pond", where daring anglers could cast their line over a counter and be assured of reeling in a fresh catch of lollypops and bubble gum. Popcorn and punch was available to all, and marshmallows were ready to be roasted over the open fire, along with the obligatory graham crackers and Hershey's chocolate bars to make s'mores. At this point, I lost track of Kid as he and 15 other little goblins, princesses, dinosaurs, and what-not mixed and melded in the cabin, and it became our job to watch the whole crowd now, as well as operate and help out with the booths and the munchies. Interacting with 10-year-olds is not as easy as it sounds, and I had my hands more than full trying to act young, supervise, and mediate among them.
The evening, as it has a tendency to do, wore on. The marshmallows and chocolate ran out quickly - definitely the most popular aspect of the party. After an hour of the madhouse, it was time to quiet down and listen to a ghost story. The lights were turned low, and the children gathered around the fireplace for an absolutely chilly tale that kept me awake later than I would have liked that night. Another 15 minutes of melee ensued after the story as the YMCA counselors prepared for the final event of the evening - a movie. The children gathered their blankets and sleeping bags and laid them down in front of the TV, all changed out of their costumes and into their pajamas (it was nearing 10pm, which I'm sure was late for the children) ready to go to sleep after, if not during, the movie. Tonight's selection: "Hook", the timeless tale of a grown-up Peter Pan who must remember how to fly in order to rescue his children, who have been kidnapped by the evil Captain Hook. This was our cue that we could leave, or stay, as our services were no longer needed. So we slipped out after saying goodbye to the children, who were definitely more interested in the movie.
It was a dark, cold ride back to the university, but we were still exhilarated from the party, which had been more fun than any party I'd been to in the last 3 years. It was hard to think of the event as "volunteer work", because it didn't seem like your typical (or maybe stereotypical) volunteer job: picking up trash, mowing lawns, painting houses, or feeding people. Though perhaps not on the scale of volunteering for the AIDS quilt, or a homeless shelter, or Goodwill, there was a need for volunteer support, and we filled it, and we had a lot of fun doing it. Isn't that what volunteer work is supposed to be about? As we looked more into the matter later, we found many organizations around Salem that held parties, gatherings, or festivals for children and young adults that needed volunteers periodically throughout the year. Opportunities like this are everywhere, in every town, all the time! They're just not worth missing, trust me.
My friends and I were discouraged when we learned about all the great parties we had missed that year, at the YMCA, the YWCA, the Boys and Girls Club...until we realized that we could always catch them next year.