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The start of the new decade hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it’s given us a new perspective, brought people together and forced us to slow down and rest. While the latter is positive for people who have been on-the-go for years, volunteers in the performing arts community are struggling. 

“Volunteers love to volunteer, it’s engrained in their personalities,” said Anne Canvasser, Front of House and Volunteer Resources Manager at Midland Center for the Arts.

Canvasser was a volunteer herself. The former restaurant owner-turned Center employee became a volunteer in the ‘90s after her neighbor recruited her. Her commitment to the Center and passion for its work led her to taking on a larger role years later and coordinating the volunteer program.

“The volunteers are a real integral part of the Center and the success of the Center,” Canvasser said. “It’s a tightly woven thing; it’s not just one person, it’s a community of people.”

When Midland Center for the Arts closed its doors at the start of the pandemic, its volunteers were left without shows to usher or field trips to guide. For some, this was the first time in over a decade that their weekdays and evenings weren’t spent in the auditorium preparing for a show.

“Some of our volunteers have been volunteering for more than 15 years, and some of the Center Stage Theatre volunteers go further back than that,” Canvasser said. “We had March, April, May and June where we really did not have any opportunities for volunteers. We were sort of towing our way through the pandemic, and then the flood hit.”

It’s been a slow season for the Center’s volunteer program, so Canvasser has been in regular contact with 280 of the Center’s 3,000 volunteers to check in and see how they’re doing. As a former volunteer, Canvasser knows how difficult it is to be away from the Center, but even more difficult, being away from “family.”

The volunteers “feel like family,” Canvasser said. “They’re part of the Center family.”

While there haven’t been any volunteer opportunities at the Center until recent, Canvasser was on the hunt for other volunteer projects when she learned the Midland community garden was recruiting volunteers.

“We see people in need and the garden provides a much-needed resource,” she said. “Between a pandemic and a flood, people out of work, it’s nice to have this bright spot that provides a much-needed resource.”

The community garden, located across from Memorial Presbytarian Church, started three years ago and is entirely managed by volunteers. It provides food to Midland Fresh and The Bridge Food Center which both give produce to people in need. This year, the garden produced roughly 1,800 pounds of food, including potatoes, celery, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, beets, tomatoes and more.

With the hardships and challenges that Midland residents have experienced this year, Canvasser said lending a helping hand is more important than ever this year. “I’m seeing a side of humanity that is just heartwarming,” she said. “It’s a way for the Center and volunteers to be involved in the community in a meaningful way and gives them things to be engaged in, which is very important.”

Over the last year, Canvasser has been committed to pulling volunteers into areas they’re unfamiliar with; recruiting volunteers to work in the community garden is just one of the many ways Canvasser is working towards creating the “all-inclusive” environment she envisions.

“To see how dedicated volunteers are and how much the volunteers at the Center love to use their talents and become involved, it’s quite a thing to see,” she said. “The community garden gave us a wonderful opportunity to engage our volunteers and staff in an opportunity that is outside of the walls of the Center.”

When the Center fully reopens to the public, Canvasser hopes to have more opportunities and activities for volunteers to do. Until then, they’ll continue planting the seeds of hope in a garden that brings it to those in need.

About the author

Kayleigh Garrison

Kayleigh Garrison

Kayleigh Garrison is a Michigan State University alum and Communications & Public Relations Intern at Midland Center for the Arts. 

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