Last night we had the opportunity to volunteer for an annual fundraiser for The Whale Foundation. Not to be confused with a bunch of environmentalists that are chanting “Save the Whales”, this group is actually about supporting the mental and physical health of the Grand Canyon river guiding community. It all got started in the late 90′s after a well loved guide, nicknamed Whale, took his own life. Guiding the Grand Canyon, while an amazing way to make a living, can be a very difficult profession. It is hard on a person physically, mentally, and hard on their family. So now the Whale Foundation sponsors health fairs and connects guides to the resources they need. And through this annual fundraiser they also connect guides to one another and to the larger community that supports them.
If the crowd at last night’s event was any indication, the river guides have a lot of community support. At one point I was feeling claustrophobic because there were so many people and so much energy in the room. It was also the largest silent auction I had ever witnessed, with donations coming from artists, big companies, individuals, and local businesses. I was inspired to bid and ended up winning a 10 day pass for the local climbing gym!
What I loved about last night was reconnecting to old friends and meeting new people. There was another volunteer, Ariel, who coined the term “competitive volunteering” to describe the way she and I approached the silent auction. We were two of several volunteers and the crowd was being so civilized that we were not hit by the expected rush and therefore we didn’t have a lot to keep us busy. Ariel and I competed to find auction winners who needed to complete their paperwork, elbowing one another to get to someone first. Periodically I would give up on that assignment and just find other things to do, picking up around the main room and exasperating Ariel with the way I managed to keep busy.
When it slowed down I had a chance to get to know Ariel better. Not surprisingly she is a river rafting guide in the Grand Canyon. In the off season, she and her husband live in Colorado on a plot of land that they managed to buy but haven’t yet built a house on. We compared notes about being essentially unemployed and houseless. For them that means living in a shipping container as they build the foundation for their home. A shipping container at 9,000 feet in Colorado is basically a walk in freezer in the winter and I bowed down to her toughness. Of course, she tackles the rapids of the mighty Colorado for a living, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.
From what I could see, the fundraiser was a huge success. We were glad to have been a part of this event and hope we can support the organization in the future.