By Ashley Oyer, AmeriCorps Member
This summer as an AmeriCorps member, I’ve spent most of my weeks as a volunteer jumping from location to location helping with daily operations and simple assistance. July 4th was my first volunteer experience with Valpo Parks centered on an event. Since COVID-19, like many organizations, Valpo Parks has had to rethink and adjust constantly as new information is received about the virus and government restrictions loosening or tightening depending upon case numbers. While Valpo Parks has hosted a Fourth of July celebration for many years, this is the first celebration with social distancing measures in place. Although a challenge, I was proud to have been a part of a community celebration that was both safe and positive. July 4th celebration activities included an early morning 5K and ended with an evening of fireworks.
Here’s a rundown of my day-of activities. The first step involved getting up at 5:45 --no small task. The night before, I had set out my clothes, keys, and shoes as well as multiple alarms to make sure that I got out of the house on time. During my drive to Downtown Valpo, I quickly decided that it was a Venti morning and did a quick spin through the Starbucks drive-thru. Once properly caffeinated, I was ready to head to my race station to direct runner traffic at their annual 4th of July Blast 5K.
This year, Valpo Parks put on a socially distant rendition by staggering running times. My responsibility was to stand on a designated corner and direct people towards the finish line. There were people of all ages participating, some were serious runners while others were just there to enjoy the day and walk the course. I saw so many patriotic renditions of red, white, and blue through special socks, shorts, and full-blown outfits. I was happy to do my part cheering people on as they grew tired towards the end of the course. Although it took me a coffee or two to get there, it was a nice way to spend my morning.
In the late afternoon, I returned to help setup for the fireworks display. I helped set up car barriers, tents, and sanitizing stations. Another volunteer and I worked on setting up dividers and marking six feet apart on the pavement with neon orange duct tape at the entrance. This year’s event was ticketed in order to comply with CDC guidelines, making a certain number of tickets available for Valparaiso residents. Tickets were required at the entrance, making me a ticket taker.
After ripping off the ticket stubs, we offered free face coverings, water, and hand sanitizer. Once it got dark, everyone got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks show. There were cheers and laughter between loved ones and a celebration of our country. While the fireworks themselves were spectacular, what warmed my heart the most was seeing people connect and celebrate together (and safely) amongst the chaos and fear in our world today.
While a fireworks show is no ordinary occurrence, being able to watch fireworks go off in the July heat brings back a piece of normalcy that we all need.
For more information about United Way AmeriCorps Northwest Indiana program, contact Maddie Grimm, AmeriCorps Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 219.464.3583, ext. 105.