Monday, May 21, 2001

Downtown volunteers disband

        Taste of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of volunteers. The UpDowntowners are no more.

        Members felt unappreciated. And stymied.

        So, they dismantled their group last week by dissolving their association with the Downtown Council, the UpDowntowners' funding source and co-producers of Taste of Cincinnati.

        With the UpDowntowners' demise, the spirit of volunteerism in Cincinnati has taken one on the chin. But it's not down for the count.

        The UpDowntowners lasted 25 years. An eon for an all-volunteer group.

        The Downtown Council's auxiliary had 140 active members. By recruiting family, friends and co-workers, the group annually found upward of 1,000 warm bodies to sell tickets, pour beer and monitor exits, as well as set up and tear down booths, at Taste of Cincinnati.

        The food festival's co-producers plan to fill the UpDowntowners' ranks with other volunteers, staff members and paid concessionaires.

        “We're fine for Taste of Cincinnati,” said Patrick Sheeran, the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce vice president in charge of the Downtown Council.

        “But we can always use more volunteers.”

        Everyone can. Volunteers work cheap. And happy. They have fun serving beer. They yuk it up with the customers. Everyone has a good time.

Troubled times
               Taste of Cincinnati is this weekend. And, so far, a good time has not been had by all.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III has suggested the Memorial Day weekend event be canceled because of the city's racial unrest. Boycotts have been threatened. One R&B band, Cincinnati's Midnight Star, canceled its performance as a show of solidarity.

        Now comes the UpDowntowners' exit.

        “Members felt unappreciated,” said Tina Otten, the group's second vice president. They would donate their time — 8,000 hours for Taste of Cincinnati. But they'd hear about problems — beer spills, long lines, unmanned booths — “only after rules were changed. We were never consulted. And we have a can-do attitude.”

        She admitted the group's membership has been shrinking. She also noted that the UpDowntowners asked for a Web site to recruit members. “After three years of asking, we still have no Web site.”

Wider range of events
               Members also wanted to expand the group's scope.

        “We wanted to go beyond Downtown Council events,” said Liz Jackson, chair of the UpDowntowners committee finding volunteers for Taste of Cincinnati.

        “We want to do Action Auction, Taste of Blue Ash, St. Rita's festival.”

        To meet those goals, former UpDowntowners plan to hold an organizational meeting for a new volunteer group at 6 p.m. June 5 in the Blue Ash Clarion Hotel.

        Liz Jackson will attend the meeting. But, as she looks to the future, she won't turn her back on Taste of Cincinnati.

        “We have 360 volunteers ready to work at Taste,” she said. “As UpDowntowners we made a commitment. We plan to carry it out with honor and dignity.

        “There's lots to do. No matter what we call our new group, people still want to give of themselves and contribute to the city.”

        The spirit of volunteerism lives on.

        No matter who tries to kill it.


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