Volunteering in Tryon

Published 8:43 am Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My husband and I recently waited on tables at a Tryon Country Club dinner. I’d promised myself when I graduated from college I’d never wait on another table. I wasn’t very good at it, and I hated doing it. It was no small trick avoiding it in a multi-decade career as an actor in Los Angeles where every waiter has an acting resume.

So I surprised myself when I volunteered to do it after a 33 year hiatus. Why did I say yes? I remembered sitting at the recent Lanier Library Poetry Festival luncheon and watching my friends deliver food and fill water glasses, one of which was the wife of the Sydney Lanier Poetry Prize recipient, and I thought if they volunteered to serve, then so should I.

That’s the thing about volunteering – it’s contagious.

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When Paul and I moved to Tryon in 2011, one of our first friends gave us a warning, only half in jest: to be careful about being recruited onto too many non-profit boards. We quickly learned what she meant. For such a small town, Tryon has a large number of non-profit organizations that need a large number of volunteers to run them. But they all seem to always have a dedicated team of volunteers who run them beautifully.

My husband was snatched up right away, having an MBA and decades of experience in business. I couldn’t imagine I’d be approached after acquiring life skills like strutting down runways in stilettos and emoting on cue in front of a camera and crew.

But of course, I soon realized I could pour iced tea, sweep a floor, fold and stack chairs. That’s what my MBA husband and two other Tryon Country Club board members did by my side at the Country Club dinner. Because that’s what volunteers do – whatever is needed.

The first non-profit group that asked for my services was the Tryon Garden Club. I was impressed that this group of volunteers (mostly women) not only organized monthly meetings with guest speakers, tended the Depot Garden and worked to educate the community about gardening, but they ran Pearson’s Falls.

I’d never heard of a garden club running a business – much less an incredibly cool and popular tourist attraction that could boast stunning natural beauty and a remarkable history, having been purchased and preserved by multiple generations of Tryon Garden Club women volunteers since 1931.

In spite of being a fairly poor gardener and not even terribly interested in gardening, I joined the Tryon Garden Club, inspired by the volunteerism of its members. At their new-member orientation, they said we didn’t have to be great gardeners—we could contribute in our own way, even if that was just pulling weeds. (Of course, I don’t know a weed from a wildflower.)

I was asked to donate my time by writing articles about the club’s news for the Bulletin, and that’s really when my eyes were opened to just how big a deal volunteers are in this community.

My first article was about inducting a club member into the Second Wind Hall of Fame. I’d never heard of this award, and started doing my research for the article.

I soon learned there are so many outstanding volunteers in this community that this hall of fame was started. The recipients must be retired, over 60 and have volunteered for three organizations for three years. There are lots of these award recipients, and their numbers grow every year.

I was amazed at how many people work hard to keep all these non-profit organizations healthy, and the events hosted by the non-profits are a big part of what make Tryon so special. We all benefit from the participation of the organizations, their members and volunteers in the community.

As I was lined up with my fellow wait staff volunteers before the Tryon Country Club dinner awaiting my instructions, I confided to the others that Paul and I hadn’t waited on a table since our college days, and the other volunteers confessed they’d never done it before. Ever. And yet here they were, ready to do whatever was asked, knowing it would be an evening of hard work that would leave us with stiff backs and sore feet.

But we did our best, and hopefully inspired a few others in the room who spotted a handful of board members juggling plates and water pitchers with very little skill but lots of heart. Because that’s the thing about volunteerism – it inspires.