Scrap Story #2: Outreach

Friday, September 9, 2011

Creativity! Community! Reuse!

So I sent my $150 donation in to the Scrap exchange in spring 2000 and said I was interested in volunteering. The director called me but we kept missing each other, and right around that time, I started a database project at work and got really busy with that. We never managed to get together. And I never managed to make it to the store.

The organization sent out a fundraising letter in the fall, and I sent in a donation of $100. (Still hadn’t been in the store.)

About a year later I heard they were having serious financial problems, word was they might have to close. That was the last I heard, and I didn’t walk over that way much so wasn’t sure if they were even still there. The database project had taken off in unexpected directions, I was trying to figure things out, it was busy.

In fall 2002, I got a fundraising letter in the mail. Not out of business after all!

I sent in a donation of $50. (I had quit my job in January 2002 to focus on database work. No more salary, not quite so much to give away, but still wanted to help.) I still hadn’t been in the store. I got a thank you letter from a new director, she said she saw from my previous donations that I had been interested in volunteering. Was I still interested?

I went in to meet with her after the holidays, in January 2003. She asked what I did. I said I had worked in book publishing for a number of years, but for the past year I’d been working as a Filemaker developer. Her ears perked up. She said, “Really, you know Filemaker?” I said I did. She said they had someone try to do a Filemaker database for them but it wasn’t what they needed, they couldn’t get it to work.

She said they had an outreach program, event organizers would hire them to come to events, bring a vanload of materials, let people make things out of the materials. They needed a database to keep track of what events they were doing, who was working, whether they’d been paid.

I said sure, I could look at that.

She said we also need people to work at events, we actually pay people for that.

I wasn’t sure if that counted as volunteering, and wasn’t sure how I felt about going out and interacting with people making things out of scrap materials. I can only handle so much interpersonal interaction and I didn’t quite get how that would work. I thought maybe I’d start with the database and we could talk about the other stuff later.

So my first volunteer project was to try to figure out how to set up a database for the outreach program. Turned out to be pretty straightforward, I spent maybe 20 hours getting it all together and rolling. It was definitely a game-changer for them, trying to do that without a database was not easy. (They still run the whole outreach program out of a Filemaker database, though it’s undergone extensive revisions since that first one I set up, I think I’ve spent about 350 hours on it at this point.)

And then a few months later she called and asked if I wanted to work at an event, they were short one staff person for something at the Durham Public Library, could I fill in?

I said I could try.

I worked at the event and I’m not sure what I expected but honestly I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before.

You put barrels of stuff in a room, a few boxes of smaller things (wire and plastic pointy thingies and ribbon and things like that), put scissors and staplers and tape on the tables, and tell people to make whatever they want out of whatever they can find. That’s it, just go on and do whatever you can think of.

Really? That’s how it works? Who does that? Who tells people to make anything they can think of — no instructions, no pictures, no templates. Can kids even do that anymore?

It turns out they can, you just need to give them the chance.

What do people make?

The event was to celebrate the release of the new Harry Potter book, so that had a built-in theme. People making wands and dressing up like witches and things like that. Parents helping their kids figure things out. I remember one little girl who wanted an outfit that included shorts, her dad was trying to put it together with her, he was doing the best he could but couldn’t get it quite the way she wanted. (In retrospect, it seems like he should have tried to talk her into a skirt; shorts with staplers and tape as your only fasteners are tough for even the most talented Scrap artist.) There’s definitely the potential for frustration at a Scrap event.

But mostly we encourage kids to do things on their own, that way they can get it exactly the way they want it, whatever it looks like in their head is what it is. (Early lesson learned: never say “Oh, I like your cat!” It could be a weasel. Say, “That’s awesome! Tell me about it.”)

Since that first event, I’ve worked at events in Alabama (Montgomery, Troy), Tennessee (Kingsport), Virginia (Fairfax, Roanoke, Suffolk), and all across North Carolina (Salisbury, Jacksonville, Rocky Mount, Kernersville, Concord, and of course Durham, Cary, Raleigh, Carrboro, Chapel Hill). In September I’m working at the madhouse that is BugFest (where the picture above was taken) and in October I’m going to Arkansas.

See the world, Scrap style.


Help! The Scrap Exchange Needs YOU!

Visit the Scrap Exchange website for full details on our fundraiser, or to make a tax-deductible, online donation through PayPal or Network for Good.

Rather go old school? Checks can be made payable to The Scrap Exchange and mailed to 923 Franklin St, Bay 1, Durham, NC 27701.

2 Responses to “Scrap Story #2: Outreach”

  1. “The database project had taken off in unexpected directions, I was trying to figure things out, it was busy.”

    I sense a reoccurring trend in your life.


  2. lessisenough Says:

    Yeah, every few years I seem to end up in the middle of two jobs. Usually only one of which pays. But sometimes they end up being useful.

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