COLUMBIA, MD -- The price for a ticket to this year’s Virgin Mobile Festival
is volunteerism. Those who did not get their hands on one of the 35,000 free tickets were given the opportunity to attend the festival in return for a day of service.
In June, Virgin Mobile USA decided to give back to the people in an ailing economy and announced that that the 2009 Virgin Mobile Festival would be free. “Times are tough and money’s tight,” reads the FreeFest website. “That’s why this year’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest is on us.”
For tickets that usually cost $100 or more, this was an exciting opportunity that may not be repeated. “It’s something that we knew we wanted to do this year,” Hill said “But for the future, that’s undetermined at this point.”
When 35,000 tickets were released to the public at the end of June, they were “freed out” within minutes. In anticipation of their popularity and as kind gesture to Howard County where the festival would take place, Virgin Mobile donated 2,500 tickets to the county government’s Summer of Service
A collaboration between Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Virgin Mobile, and Merriweather Post Pavillion
, where FreeFest will take place, SOS is a program that offers participates the opportunity to attend the sold out event in exchange for a day of community service.
“While the design of the program calls for participants to contribute one day of service in order to receive one voucher for a free ticket, the hope of the program is that through participation in the Summer of Service, people will become interested in potentially volunteering in the future,” said Executive Assistant Ian Kennedy
When presented with these tickets, the county government took it as an opportunity to do some good in the community and across the state. 1,100 volunteer opportunities at over 230 different events were posted on the SOS website. Events ranged from park clean-ups to giving blood to helping at the Domestic Violence Center and the Office of Aging.
Kennedy said that the other tickets were allocated to other specific organizations. Anne Arundel County received 50 tickets to give volunteers who helped at a summer Olympics program for youth campers with disabilities. 900 tickets went to the Red Cross for blood donors. There were also a handful of tickets for people volunteered with other groups or who initiated their own volunteer opportunities and shared their stories with the county government.
Virgin Mobile set aside the tickets for SOS and their own volunteer program to help homeless youth called Free I.P. to respond to a sharp decrease in volunteerism. “We thought it was a good opportunity to get people involved in social giving,” said Virgin Mobile Manager of Partnerships & Cause Marketing Felicia Hill.
Kennedy said that participates and organizations sponsoring volunteer events have had “uniformly positive” reactions to SOS. He explained that the organizations are thankful for the volunteers and the volunteers are thankful for a ticket but that the participants are also talking about the other rewards that come from service.
The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County was one organization that received help from SOS volunteers. Nine volunteers arrived on July 18 to reorganize and restock one of the Center’s pantry rooms in a project they called “Design on a Dime.”
“It was just amazing to be a part of,” said Diana Mitchell, the Center’s Volunteer Programs Coordinator. “We spoke to all the volunteers that came to our event … and they were excited to just participate in what we were doing and to become a little bit more aware about our agency and it was definitely a way to reach a different generation of volunteers.”
Kennedy said that one day of service cannot solve homelessness or environmental problems but he explained that the goal of the program was never to solve the world’s problems in a day. “One day of service maybe leads to one other day of service,” Kennedy said. “If the Summer of Service can provide that critical incentive to get you to volunteer that first time, then maybe it can turn you into a lifetime volunteer.”
Mitchell commended Virgin Mobile and the Howard County Government for organizing Summer of Service and said she considers it a model for other volunteer programs. “We’re really hoping that they offer it again next year.”
The Virgin Mobile FreeFest will take place at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD on August 30, 2009. A handful of tickets are still available for blood donations. The Red Cross blood drive will be held at the Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way in Columbia from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 22, 2009. To register for one of Howard County’s last volunteer opportunities, please visit sos.howardcountymd.gov.