Day 5: Making Spirits Bright

Small man, big plan
A different sort of Christmas tree

A different sort of Christmas tree

I have always done my best to avoid falling back on clichés in my writing. Thus, I found it difficult to describe my volunteer experience at Snowy Nights in the Memphis Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard on Friday evening. As the designated helper for the Giant Light Bright station, however, I really did see children’s faces light up. Their eyes were literally all aglow from the light diffusing through the colored water bottles they were happily arranging along segments of chain link fence. I think I even heard an occasional “ooh” and “ahh.”

I was already acquainted with the whimsy of My Big Backyard, but this was my first experience with Snowy Nights. For the month of December, the family-friendly garden space is strewn with Christmas lights and filled with a variety of hands-on, holiday-themed activities. While familiar Christmas carols play in the background, attendees can toast marshmallows over a fire pit, take a photo with the Snow Queen or the Gingerbread man, and slide around inside a giant snow globe.

Small man, big plan

Small man, big plan

The fact that parents brought their children out on such a cold, rainy night is a testament to the quality and popularity of this annual event. While I stood as close as possible to the propane heater set up at my station, families explored every corner of the garden. Several children who passed by were shy about approaching the Light Bright station until I gave them a demonstration. They then began designing with gusto.

One child spent a solid twenty minutes constructing a gorgeous diamond  design while narrating the entire process to his amused parents. “He has a plan,” his mother assured me. Later, a toddler who couldn’t even tell me her name arranged four bottles in the order of the color spectrum. “You may have a tiny physicist on your hands,” I told her mother. “Yup,” she replied. A few of the adults jumped in to help here and there, and occasionally a child needed help snapping a bottle firmly into place. Mostly we just stood back and watched the creations take shape.

Eventually the rain prevailed and the staff had to make the call to close early for the night. I am thankful for the two magical hours I did get to spend at Snowy Nights, though. When I look at the children’s museums and other similar interactive learning environments that have sprung up in Memphis since I was a child, I have to admit- I kind of want to be a kid again.

Memphis Botanic Garden has tons of volunteer opportunities, even for those who don’t necessarily have a green thumb. Visit www.memphisbotanicgarden.com/volunteer for more information.

Playground Lane with a festive makeover

Playground Lane with a festive makeover

Lights everywhere!

Lights everywhere!

Childhood, Revisited

Snowy Nights!
My lovely Snowomen

My lovely Snowomen

Team, I know this is absurd coming from someone in their twenties, but I really wish I was a kid again. Not so much to experience the growing pains and awkwardness but so I can go to places like the Memphis Botanic Garden and experience Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard for all its glory. Since I was blown away as an adult* I can only imagine how much fun I would have as a child!

Snowy Nights!

Snowy Nights!

*I don’t necessarily consider myself an adult though I understand that it is a title that society expects me to hold.

 

 

 

 

So, Snowy Nights! ‘Twas beautiful! ‘Twas rain free! ‘Twas not too cold! ‘Twas a great experience! It really was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday evening. Before heading over there, I was at my friend’s house. Pretty much everyone was on the couch. Coming back to that same friend’s house later, everyone was still on the couch. I, however, had played with real life Light Brights, hung out in a snow pit, drank hot cocoa, gave away pink snow and watched little kids run in joy to take a picture with Frosty the Snowman. I’ll let you decide who had the better time.

Part of the backyard all lit up!

Part of the backyard all lit up!

On a normal day, the Big Backyard is awesome in its own right. When it is all lit up and decorated for the holidays, photographs really can’t do it justice. I was there a little bit early and got to walk around and I WAS SQUEALING WITH DELIGHT. THIS IS AWESOME! THIS IS AWESOME! See, adult is not a correct term for me.

 

When I was finished with my self-guided tour it was time for all the volunteers to line up and hear more about Snowy Nights from volunteer coordinator Rosemary. There were about 25 of us volunteering and we were all assigned different posts. A few were sent to the cookie dough ornament making station. A few more were sent to the fire pit to help with s’mores. A few got to man the various costumes et cetera. I landed the lucky position of greeter!

Throne Chilling

Throne Chilling

Although I would’ve loved to be the Snow Queen, I really loved my time welcoming everyone, handing out pink snow, then getting to see people exit with their little ones tuckered out from all the great things they got to see and do. When talking to one child leaving she said her favorite part was “everything!” then, looking up at her mom exclaimed, “Mom! Can it be next year now so we can come again?!” I died. That was the cutest.

It truly was a magical time. Even though I won’t be having a white Christmas this year, I was proud that Memphis really brought the holiday spirit to life. The Botanic Garden was a great way to mediate the rest of this week. Although I have been in high spirits with all the volunteer work I’ve been doing this week, it was great to remember that there are super easy ways to bring a smile to a child’s face while having some fun yourself. There is certainly a balance that needs to be maintained. I’m slowly figuring out that I need to mix in joy to provide balance. Snowy Nights was a great way to tilt the joy factor a little higher.

Stay tuned for more updates from the 901.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
—————————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
——————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Nature Meets Imagination

20131123-101135.jpg

vo2 027

I want to be six years old. I think it was the Once Upon a Time House that did it. Or Storybook Corner, which has it’s own Little Free Library and giant throne for storytime. It might have been when I heard the words “Snow Queen”. As in, “The Snow Queen hands out candy during Snowy Nights.”

It’s possible I want to be the Snow Queen.

vo2 038

I spent my Saturday morning marveling at the Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard. Despite the overcast skies and cooler autumn temperatures, there were lots of children running back and forth, their patient parents jogging to keep up. There were lots of excited faces, and rightly so. The Botanic Garden has created a children’s paradise, combining nature and fantasy to great success. There are mazes and swings, slides and creeks, themed playhouses and a giant treehouse. The area is designed to be fun, of course, but also to teach. In Home Sweet Home, plants grow out of furniture and appliances. The area is designed to show how plants can be used in different rooms of the house, and signs show tips on conserving energy. Kids are encouraged to sample the mint leaves and figs from the trees that line one side. The Bee and Butterfly Patios are up next, explaining the importance of pollinators to plant life and lighting the way to Playhouse Lane.

vo2 032

vo2 040

Local artists designed the differing playhouse structures, and it really is a fantasy wonderland for little ones. In addition to the fairy tale house, there’s playhouses devoted to scientific exploration, full of magnifying glasses and other instruments of discovery. There’s a music house with built in musical instruments and a country farm house with a chicken coup in the back. The giant tree house offers rope bridges, facts about birds, and an eagle eye view of the whole area. Volunteers are encouraged to read a story, put on a puppet show, build up the giant bird’s nest, invite kids to sample the edible plants, whatever and wherever they feel most at home.

vo2 048

vo2 050

It’s really, really cool.

And it’s about to get cooler. With winter comes Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard, a holiday lights show with music, games, beautiful holiday displays, and the aforementioned Snow Queen. There’s always an educational piece, of course, and I got a terrible case of scissors fingers cutting hundreds of paper corn kernels for the “Holidays Around the World” class that will teach kids about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and more.  They can learn, and then explore the winter wonderland waiting just outside. I, for one, can’t wait to see the magic.

I might even wear a tiara.

 

 

Thank you for reading! I am looking for a position with a non-profit that will allow me to use my communication, fundraising, and special event planning skills to impact development at an organization making a positive difference in Memphis. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

————————————————————————————————————————————
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!
————————————————————————————————————————————
————————————————————————————————————————————