April 28, 2014 9:31:35 AM
As Main Street Columbus prepares for the thousands of people who will descend on downtown this weekend during Market Street Festival, hundreds of volunteers are working behind the scenes.
Main Street Director Barbara Bigelow said more than 400 volunteers are working to ensure the weekend goes off without a hitch. From setting up barricades to counting tokens for the children's activities to selling bottled drinks, volunteers are responsible for a large part of the annual festival.
Former Main Street Director Amber Brislin is helping Bigelow organize this year's event. Brislin, now a volunteer herself, said she returned this year because her heart is in the festival.
"People ask me why I keep coming back each year," she said. "Well, I don't have one specific answer. It's more like lots of reasons. What was once my paying job for five years became a huge and very important part of my life during that time. I have worked diligently on everything Market Street Festival for the past seven years, as I have served as chairman for the past two years after I resigned as Main Street director. I would truly miss it if I weren't a part of the festivities, the planning, the details, the hard work, the people and the fun."
Brislin said a core group of volunteers who have worked on many of the previous Market Street Festival keeps the event running like a well-oiled machine.
"One of the reasons the festival does run so smoothly is the fact that we have had many of the same volunteers for several years," she said. "Although we do welcome new volunteers with open arms each year, we all know how to handle whatever may arise, and have learned from past experiences, which we strive to improve each year. We are truly a family.
"We always joke that 'once you're in, you are in and there's no turning back.' We all do it because we love our community, we love the cause and we love Market Street Festival."
Volunteer Katie Rowzee interned at Main Street Columbus four years ago. She has returned as a festival volunteer every year since.
"I truly enjoy being a part of something that is such a big part of our community, seeing all the old faces and meeting the new ones," Rowzee said. "It's a great feeling knowing that I have played a role in this tradition for the past four years."
Many volunteers come from local civic organizations. Others are family and friends of other volunteers, Brislin said. The event truly has become a family affair for Brislin. She and her husband, Quinn, have helped organize the event since they first began dating. Her grandmother helps out as well.
"I have involved most of my friends and many members of my family to help in some form or fashion, and they are all happy to do so, not only because they know how much it means to me, but they, too, are happy to be a part of this great event," she said. "For instance, for the past seven years, my Granny, Miriam Killebrew, has folded each and every one of the thousands of Market Street Festival T-shirts each year and is happy to do it, I even think she looks forward to it each year."
When the festival ends, Brislin said there is a contentment and stepping back and seeing just what the army of volunteers helped build.
"We are proud of what we do and you can't really put into words the feeling of contentment when you can stand back at the end of the day and say, 'Wow, all of us together made this event happen.' The joy on festival-goers' faces is thanks enough for all the hard work that both of us and all the volunteers put in to this enormous endeavor."
Without the work of the volunteers, the event would not be possible, Brislin said.
"How do I put into words how invaluable volunteers are towards the success of Market Street? By simply saying thank you. Thank you for what you give of your time, your efforts, your knowledge and your resources. Thank you for putting smiles on thousands of faces. Thank you for caring enough about your community to give back. Thank you for realizing how important Market Street Festival is to Columbus and thank you for all that you do. It would not be possible without each and every one of you."
Brislin encouraged festival-goers to say 'thank you' to the people who will be running around in a Market Street Festival "Staff" shirt this weekend.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Public wants inclusion in Starkville's comprehensive planning process STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
2. Judge: Closed council gatherings in Columbus broke Open Meetings Act COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Man sentenced to 5 years after Lowndes Co. DUI COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. MSU fans travel in large numbers to SEC tourney STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY