Susan will be a full time staff volunteer in our office for this whole year. She will be writing bi-weekly blog posts about her experiences being a full time volunteer and working with us. Here’s her first post, keep an eye out for future ones, and say welcome to Susan!
Last week was my first week as a full time volunteer for Near West and it’s been nothing short of overwhelming. I know that overwhelming is often associated with a negative connotation but in this instance that is not that case.
First, a little background about me and what I’m talking about! Hello, my name is Susan Dicken. I am from Cincinnati, Ohio and Cincinnati is where my love of theatre began. My parents have always been supporters of the arts. They began taking my older brothers and I to theatre productions from when we were 5 till… actually… they still take us to theatre productions, that is, if we’re lucky enough to get invited. I’ve spent evenings at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, The Arnoff Center in the heart of downtown, as well as my own high school’s auditorium, although while I was there I’d tend to be more backstage or on stage than in the house.
When I started undergrad at Wilmington College my love of theatre came to its height. While I loved theatre and performed in every production I could audition for at Wilmington, I also thoroughly enjoyed my business classes (which was fortunate because I was double majoring in marketing and economics). I was fortunate enough to combine these two, business and theatre, through the Arts Administration maters program at The University of Akron. I also got a taste of the production side of theatre while there though my work as a graduate assistant. While attending school up north I was introduced to Ohio City and the rest of the Cleveland area, which was bursting with nonprofits for me to volunteer with!
A good friend of mine, Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez, is a co-executive director of one of these nonprofits, the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America and Columbia (IRTF for short). If you’re thinking to yourself, “hmm that sounds familiar…” that’s because if you’ve ever attended one of Near West Theatre productions at their St. Pats location you walked right past the IRTF office! So needless to say the staff of IRTF is familiar with the Near West staff and if you know Chrissy you know how good she is at bringing people together. And that is how I met Stephanie Morrison Hbrek (although I doubt she remembers the first time we met at all and that’s totally ok!) and how I got introduced to Near West Theatre.
Now that establishes my passion for theatre and how I got introduced to Near West, but how did I get to be a full time volunteer? I’ve always loved volunteering. I’ve worked at soup kitchens, painted houses through Habitat for Humanity, was a summer Ameri-Corp VISTA, and have volunteered at IRTF for the past year. IRTF has two full time paid staff members and the rest of their staff come from volunteer programs. One of those programs is call The Humility of Mary Volunteer Service. They connect volunteers with non-profit sites all over Cleveland and even a few sites down in Florida. Here’s where Chrissy comes into play again with her connection skills, as well as the IRTF Humility of Mary Volunteer Dave. They both connected me with the HM program director Sr. Mary Stanco. After showing her how much of Near West Theatre’s mission lines up with Humility of Mary Volunteer Service’s mission I got the okay that the HMVS program can support me being a full time volunteer for Near West! And that, I believe, catches us up to where we are today (sorry that was so long, I hope you stuck with it!).
Back to being overwhelmed. I started working, or volunteering if you want to get technical, at Near West at one of the most inopportune times. Everyone was just coming back from Labor Day vacations, we have a show opening this week (insert plug for Snow Queen here: Buy your tickets now! It’s going to be an amazing show!), and of course on top of all of that the usual commotion that always goes along with running a nonprofit theatre. Even with all this chaos the staff here welcomed me with open arms and it was overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that this company took a chance on allowing me to start this brand new position here. I’m overwhelmed with excitement to start the projects that they have lined up for me to tackle. I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness at this wonderful learning opportunity and at how the staff has already begun inviting me into their jobs to see their tasks so I can experience every aspect of working here. And I am overwhelmed with joy to become a part of such a strong theatre community along with the opportunity to use the work I’ll do here to make a difference in the local community. So yes, this first week has been overwhelming, but it has been overwhelming in the best way and I could not be happier to start my journey here at Near West Theatre.