Labor of Love

Capital Pride finds its lifeblood in the volunteers who create this affirming gift to the community

Capital Pride is all about the volunteers. Top to bottom, inside and out, the largest annual festival in the nation’s capital — along with the parade and days’ worth of other events — is a sublime embodiment of the phrase, “labor of love.”

Granted, there is an actual staff. It’s two people. Compare that to the volunteer army who fill out the board, the 10 committees, the three subcommittees, or who offer to help less formally in any number of capacities from planning to execution to clean-up. Capital Pride is an undertaking whose engine hums with the goodwill sounds of volunteered effort.

“We can never have too many volunteers,” said Robert Burden, the volunteer (of course) chair of the Capital Pride Volunteer & Member Recruitment Committee, as he prepared for a massive Capital Pride orientation on June 4. “Right now, we’re doing a lot of recruiting, getting everyone singed up online. We’ll have the festival and parade orientations at the Madison Hotel, have volunteers sign up for time slots. It’s going to be between 200 and 300 people.”

And while one might guess that these volunteers might be clawing their way through each other for prime assignments — maybe the “green room” greeter for the festival’s main stage? — Burden insists there is an all-hands-on-deck mood among his minions.

“It kind of balances out,” he says. “People who volunteer generally want to do anything. They’re just happy to volunteer. I’d love to keep working with Pride. I’d do what whatever they asked.”

True as that may be, Rebecca Roose can’t help but feel that her crew of volunteers deserve special mention for their particular role in cleaning up after the rest of us.

Starting with the 2008 festival, Roose and Green Sub-Committee (of the Festival Committee) co-chair Steven Rentz, have been leading a volunteer effort to help the Capital Pride Festival take an environmentally aware turn. Roose and Rentz are also board members of Burgundy Crescent Volunteers, the longstanding GLBT volunteer organization that supports Capital Pride with even more volunteers. Last year, BCV’s co-founder Jonathan Blumenthal coined a phrase for this effort to recycle festival trash: “BurGREENdy.” Whether or not you hear the ba-da-bump following Blumenthal’s pun, this is among the noblest of volunteer jobs.

“Steven and I spearheaded the effort with Capital Pride to launch the recycling effort at the Pride Festival last year, returning this year to make it bigger and better,” says Roose. “We were really successful last year. Considering how much waste is generated by 250,000 people, we’re really proud of ourselves, getting our hands dirty.”

Roose calculates that her 2008 volunteer crew of 25 collected 2,500 gallons of recyclables, based on the number of bags filled. She’s set her sights on 50 volunteers this year, more recycling bins and a greater impact on the earth.

“With more bodies and more bins, we’re hoping to at least double the amount of recyclables that we’ll keep out of landfills,” says Roose, caring as much for her volunteers as for the planet. “It’s a lot of manual labor. It’s exhausting. We try to break up shifts into small chunks so volunteers can enjoy the festival too, not get too worn out. You’re hauling heavy recyclables on a hot day. It’s not as easy to get volunteers for this as it is for taking tickets.”

It may not be easy, but still the volunteers come.

There may be no greater example of that dedicated, community spirit than Larry Stansbury, who’s found some way to roll his sleeves up for Capital Pride since 1978, when he manned the till on the DC Eagle’s beer truck. More recently, crowds have become familiar with Stansbury driving about the festival in a trusty golf cart as the volunteer head of safety and security. But he’s bequeathing the golf cart to the next generation in 2009, returning to his money-man roots as Capital Pride’s volunteer treasurer.

“I’m still very much involved, but it’s time for some of the younger people to do some of this,” says Stansbury, reminiscing about his first entry into the Capital Pride festival as a young man, calling it a “heart in your throat” moment. “We don’t have a lot of 16-year-olds driving around on golf carts, but we absolutely need everybody.”

Stansbury adds that while there may not be throngs of teenagers rushing to be Capital Pride volunteers — yet — he knows that they’ll be coming, drawn by the same lure that snagged him so many years ago.

“Volunteering, that’s just part of me,” he says. “Whether it’s activism or being involved, it’s a combination. You have to be willing to help. It’s a little idealistic, but I was able to focus on the unique community I was part of.

“There have always been years we could’ve used more help, but I’m also very pleased, happy, that there are a lot of dedicated people who take time and energy to produce Capital Pride. I’m honored to be one of those people.”

For more information on volunteering with Capital Pride, visit www.capitalpride.org.