by Sandy Mullaney
Three years ago, Area 7 set off to refresh and reimagine our events. It has been an interesting journey, and the direction we chose has engaged our community in ways that are both important and lasting.  Here’s the story:

When the Area 7 Board began brainstorming various approaches to boost attendance at our Youth Events, we mulled over lots of experiences that we could give to our kids: mystery trips, water park days, zoo excursions…   As our list of possibilities grew, an idea slowly dawned on us: many of our youth have lives filled to the brim with amazing opportunities. Perhaps we needed a new goal – rather than finding more things to GIVE to the kids, we should instead develop more opportunities for our kids to learn how to GIVE BACK. This “ah ha” moment sent us on a journey of incorporating Service Projects into not only our Youth Events and but our Adult Events as well. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from our attendees, and our ringers have definitely made a difference in many lives.

Anthornis Central 2016 – Bells, Baby Food/Items & Breakfast Food – benefits PRISM
(People Reaching Out In Social Ministry)

These are the some of the core principles which guide Area 7 as we discover and incorporate Service Projects into all of our Sponsored Events:

  • Reaching out with “Helping Hands from Handbells” to support our neighbors in need.
  • Partnering with local non-profit organizations to serve the community surrounding our event venues.
  • Finding ways to give back which not only target specific needs but also engages our handbell community in a way that raises our awareness of challenges in our own neighborhoods.

One thing we’ve seen again and again from our members: people are very pleased to be involved in service and are overwhelmingly generous when  a project is made available, specific and manageable. For projects involving kids, making it as hands-on as possible is very worthwhile (rather than just having them “bring something their Mom bought”). Including an educational component, such as inviting a speaker from the non-profit you are supporting, extends the learning beyond the Event itself.

Directors Seminar 2015 – Mitten, Glove, Sock & Hat Drive – benefits Valley Outreach,
supporting clients in the St. Croix Valley area

Over the past three years, Area 7 has hosted a wide range of Service Projects including:

  • Creating “Birthday Bags” containing cake mix, frosting, birthday candles, balloons & favors to help needy families give their child a birthday party. (Our thanks to General Mills for donating cake & frosting mixes.)
  • Creating sets of simple Rhythm Instruments to donate to low income daycare programs, homeless shelters and senior centers. (Our thanks to Home Depot for donating materials for these instruments.)
  • Putting together “Pamper Your Hands” themed gift bags for a women’s shelter.
  • Writing notes of encouragement to accompany personal care items donated to a Homeless Teen Shelter.
  • Food shelf donations, with a “handbell theme”: Our goal was giving at least the equivalent weight of two 5 Octave Bell Sets. Food donations were weighed and tallied.
  • Caring for Nature – mixing wild bird seed & creating simple bird feeders to help care for birds in the spring.
  • Winter wear drive: Hats, Glove, Mittens & Socks donations for a community clothing closet.
  • “Bells, Breakfast Food and Baby Food/Items” collection, to address these critical needs at the nearby food shelf
  • Postcards of encouragement sent to children with life threatening illnesses (in collaboration with “Send Kids The World”)

AdventuRing 2014 and 2015 – supporting Bridge for Youth
(collected school & art supplies; wrote encouraging notes to kids in the program)

Here are some of the things participants have said about the activities.   “Service projects during handbell events bring purpose and meaning to our fun.  The organizations we provide services to are grateful for our help and we are thankful we can make a difference in people’s lives,” JoBeth Ranfranz.  Olivia Holgate, age 16, said, “I really liked making the rhythm instruments because in the end we got to meet the people we made them for and perform with them, which was a cool experience.”  Karen Van Wert shared, “I’ve participated in several Area 7 service projects and the best part is hearing from the participants.  I like learning about the organizations we support and what they are doing in their community.  It makes a connection that takes me beyond my music and my choir to the surrounding community.”

Upcoming: For our June 16-19, 2016 Festival in Sioux Falls SD, Area 7 will collaborate with “Feeding South Dakota”, the state’s largest hunger relief organization. Our slogan for this Service Project is:

♫  CAN YOU CARRY A TUN-A?

We invite all attendees to bring a can of tuna – or other shelf-stable protein – to Festival to help stock the food shelf for the summer. Thank you in advance to all of our generous members for your support of this Service Project!

We hope that these project ideas will inspire you to try offering a Service Project in connection with an Event in your Area. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like help in putting together your next project!

Sandy Mullaney serves as handbell ministries director at Church of the Epiphany, Episcopal in Plymouth MN where she leads an all-age handbell & chime program and also directs the intergenerational contemporary music group. Sandy is an Artist Initiative Grant recipient from the Minnesota State Arts Board – she used this year of funding to focus on composing and arranging for handbells, and she has one published arrangement. Sandy has served as clinician for Young Ringers events and local festivals, and has taught classes at Area Festivals, Directors Seminars and National Seminars. She has especially enjoyed the opportunity to coordinate Service Projects for Area 7 events over the past three years. Sandy is currently serving as Past Chair for Area 7.