Having graduated from Grand Valley State University a few weeks ago with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations, I have poured over many case studies about generating good publicity. I have had the privilege of working in PR at Truscott Rossman since graduating, so when I volunteered for my first work-related community event last Saturday, I thought I was going to help with an event to get some good publicity for our client. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I volunteered at Lids for Kids, an annual bike safety event and bike helmet giveaway in the heart of a diverse Grand Rapids neighborhood. Despite an all-day rain, the sponsors, Sinas Dramis Law Firm and the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, were determined to do their part to prevent brain injuries and fitted nearly 500 children with free bike helmets.
I was shocked at how many partner organizations showed up, equipped with rain gear and ready for anything. The Grand Rapids Public Schools, Hope Network, the Grand Rapids Fire Department, and FOX 17, who had been promoting the event all week.
I overheard one of the organizers say, “All I had to do was send out one email and I had 30+ volunteers!”
That made me really proud of the community I’ve chosen to call home after graduation. Clearly, this event wasn’t just about getting good publicity for the sponsors.
This was about the community. This was about bike safety. This was about making Grand Rapids better.
The vast majority of kids in attendance were quiet, a little shy, and polite – but they had two more things in common: Helmets and smiles. I remember fondly a boy who was terribly shy but couldn’t hide his excitement. With a head bigger than mine, but his body still the size of an 8 year old, he let me adjust the straps of the helmet with a glow of anticipation. When I clasped the clip he said no words but his face broke into the biggest smile I’ve seen in a long time. He turned to his dad who was also clearly caught up in his excitement while taking his son’s hand, only to spin his son around and remind him to say thank you.
The same dad came back to me 20 minutes later asking if there were enough helmets for him to have one too, just so he “could look just as cool as his son.” You better believe we found a helmet to fit him!
A man thanked me for helping prevent injuries that he suffered in a bike accident as a child before helmets. This man had a traumatic brain injury and was lucky to be alive. He brought his kids to the event so they wouldn’t have to go through the same struggle that he has endured every day since his accident. An extremely sad story, but it was rewarding, too, knowing I was helping in some way.
My favorite part of the day was near the end. The rain was still coming down. FOX 17 anchor Christian Frank was raffling off a free bike in front of an eager crowd. Firefighters were showing off their cool truck and equipment. I looked to the other side of Garfield Park and saw a boy and his little sister playing tag with bike helmets on. I remembered back to when I played the same games with my eight siblings, but I can tell you one thing – we were never excited about helmets!
I thought to myself – this is awesome. A group of community builders are making helmets and safety cool, and I get to help. I never really appreciated how mutually beneficial volunteering was until last Saturday. I highly recommend it.