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A Behind The Scenes Look at Volunteering for National Cherry Festival

An eight day festival as big as the National Cherry Festival requires a lot of help from a lot of people. With only seven festival employees, they rely on 2,400 volunteers.

Luckily, there’s a spot that you’ve maybe never noticed, tucked into the back called the Ambassador Oasis. And it’s a place for the festival’s volunteers.

“It really is like a great big family reunion,” said Jan Phillips, Director of the Ambassador Oasis. “We all come together. The directors have been here for years. We’re you know, we have worked it so long. I’ve been here 30 years and I’ve worked the Oasis about 25 of them.”

You may recognize her daughter, Kat Paye, the executive director of the National Cherry Festival, and the reason Phillips started volunteering.

“Well, my daughter wanted to volunteer,” Phillips said. “I would have to drive. And the traffic was so bad that I said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to join and be here.'”

Thirty years later and she now takes two weeks off from her job and busy schedule to work every day, from set up to tear down, preparing all of this for the volunteers.

“We come in about eight in the morning to start setting up and then we finish and we close at eight, and we finish up about nine because we have to clean up after the fact,” Phillip says.

While it may be a lot of long hours, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s just a wonderful time, we’re tired. We’re all tired, but we keep going and keep smiling and just love it.”

And one of the great things about being an ambassador is anyone 12 and up can volunteer.

Guardian Services of Northwest Michigan has six ambassadors here with them every day this year. They help people who are developmentally disabled from 17 up to 90 in all the surrounding counties.

They say this week gives them a chance to learn new skills. They are working anywhere they’re needed from checking IDs in the beer tent to wiping down tables to pouring pop in the Pepsi tent.

“I learned how to make two pops at once,” Brian Barber, Ambassador at the National Cherry Festival, said. “Put the ice in both cups at the same time and then make two pops at once like two Pepsis at once and two Mountain Dews. Just learned it right away like fast.”

Guardian Services says volunteering during the National Cherry Festival helps build their confidence, and you can really tell how much fun they’re having.