A month or so ago, a Junior Olympiad (known as the Maccabi Games) was held in Houston, featuring 1,500 teenage athletes from all across the United States (and several other countries), participating in a variety of athletic competitions. The games took place over the course of a week, with sporting events held during the days and social functions held in the evenings. The athletes participated in Olympic style Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and won medals for their successes in team and individual sports. In addition to the athletic and social outings, all of the kids spent one day taking part in community service projects. Such a comprehensive undertaking required the active involvement of a large segment of the community. Numerous folks volunteered their time to plan the events, coach the children, work at the various venues, and open their homes to these visiting athletes.
I housed two soccer players from New York during the games and fully intended to be the absolute “coolest” host family. I felt certain that “my kids” would be the envy of the rest of the participants. I stocked the cabinets full of junk food (even more so than normal) and showed them how to access the adult channels on cable. I talked to them in the evenings in their own “hip” lingo, inquiring about all the “babes” that they were trying to meet. I asked them about the hottest “hip hop” craze and blasted my newly purchased Brittany Spears, N ‘Sync, and Master P CDs. (And I thought Master P was a sports agent.) I even contemplated getting a tattoo and a nose ring. During the week, I got into my own friendly competition with another host family. Who could shout the loudest at their soccer games? Who could buy their kids the best University of Texas t-shirts?
Despite my desperate attempts at recreating my glorious high school days (believe it or not, I was not cool in high school either), I came across looking like quite the “geek” (their word, not mine). In their eyes, I was 36 going on 86. I acted more like their mother than their cool friend. Each morning I would fix them a snack for the day, remind them to drink plenty of water, and tell them to try not to get overheated. (Tough task when it’s 102 degrees outside.) At one point, I even caught myself ordering for them in the restaurant and asking them if I needed to cut up their dinner. Something tells me, I was not the “cool” host family. Still, “my kids” went home with a Silver Medal in soccer, a couple of phone numbers/e-mail addresses of some “hot chicks” from other cities, and some wonderful memories of the week. (I was left with a cabinet full of Honey Nut Cheerios and Pop Tarts, some CDs that I will never again listen to, a couple of Celebration Station tokens, and a messy house that forced my housekeeper into early retirement.)
A SENSE OF PRIDE
Despite my apparent failure in searching for that fountain of youth, I had a great time during the week, and was truly proud of the way the community came together as a team to pull off this tremendous undertaking. Many of the overall planners had devoted several months (years) to ensuring the success of Maccabi 1999. Other “short-timers” (like myself) took breaks from their hectic day-to-day work schedules to help participate in various aspects of the Games, while showing off our fair city to our young guests in the process.
While the athletic competitions were at the forefront of the week’s activities, all of the volunteers learned many valuable lessons about teamwork, charity, and camaraderie from our participation in these games. We made numerous friends from across the globe and even at home, and benefited from a newfound sense of community here in Houston. That old expression “Houston Proud” was alive and well for that one week in August. I trust that the spirit and great memories will linger until Houston again hosts these games in a few years.
TEAM BUILDING AT WORK
While business related projects may represent opportunities for officemates and colleagues to come together and build some company morale in the workplace, often the greatest “team building” activities take place outside of the work environment. Company sponsored community service programs allow managers and employees to “let their hair down,” and work together for the greater good of a particular worthy cause. In such a volunteer atmosphere, individuals often see a side of their co-workers that may not exist in the office, and develop a greater sense of respect for their work ethic and charitable actions. Upon returning to work after spending some valuable time together promoting important non-work related causes, they often find a more harmonious business environment.
Employees should be encouraged to select those particular charities and events they wish to devote their time to. While donating hard earned dollars to these causes leaves us with warm benevolent feelings inside, the true value of volunteerism can only be felt by active participation in these worthy programs: serving food to the homeless at Thanksgiving, hugging an athlete at the Special Olympics, delivering gifts to underprivileged children during Christmas, etc.
For the best results, a group of employees should participate in these outings together. For example, they should carpool from their office parking lots, and wear similar company related t-shirts to promote a spirit of unity. After a successful outing, they cannot help but return with a newfound sense of community and greater morale for the workplace. Remember to never lose sight of the overall goal of these community-minded endeavors: helping to benefit a particular worthy cause, while building office camaraderie with your co-workers. Looking “cool” in the process should never be a consideration, especially if you were never cool to begin with.