#MyVolunteerJobPaysTheMost – HeadCount’s 2016 Retreat

It’s very rare for me to turn down a mountain weekend under normal circumstances, but when those set to join you are like-minded, hard-working and open-hearted music lovers from around the country, accepting such an invitation is a clear no-brainer. One week later, I’m still reeling from – and giving mad thanks post-Thanksgiving for – the 2016 HeadCount Retreat in the Poconos, where staff and volunteers gathered for celebration, reflection and planning what’s next.

(Head here for full photo album from the retreat)

It’s hard to describe the jubilance of forging insta-bonds with people you’ve finally just “met” but have admired electronically for months or years. Thanks to social media (be it through FOMO-inducing pics on our Instagram page, or eye-popping voter registration totals bragged about in the HeadCount Team Leaders Facebook Group) I already felt quite attuned to my fellow HeadCount Retreaters. But these connections were undoubtedly fortified over the 40 hours spent cheers’ing, cooking, dining, dancing, laughing, tie-dying (yeah, so?!), exchanging photos of dogs and kids back home, and supporting each other’s WORK work (our main gigs range from restaurant to retail, nonprofit to media, energy to education, and everything under the sweet sun).

The small but mighty HeadCount staff deserves major kudos for their thoughtful design of lodgings and programming, which included ample opportunities for us to give feedback after these marathon last several months to improve HeadCount’s efforts, and most importantly time for the staff to recognize some of the amazing work Team Leaders accomplished this year. An awards ceremony Saturday night was preceded by the disclaimer, “Each and every one of you is deserving of an award this year,” and we know they meant it. (Did you hear? HeadCount registered more than 160,000 voters in 2016, with volunteer leaders spread out in 60 cities, and our website helped over a million Americans go vote.) Award winners’ stories of first shows, sharing volunteers, and exchanging encouragement through the tough times served to remind us there is SO much more that unites us than divides us – as both HeadCounters and as Americans. What role can we play in our communities to engage citizens of all backgrounds, and increase participation in all elections?

On a sunny autumn Saturday (notably just a few hours before several inches of snow blanketed that same porch), we circled up and phoned in our fellow Team Leaders for the final conference call of the year to discuss our 2016 successes, and new opportunities for 2017 and beyond. Executive Director Andy Bernstein raved about our extended reach, enabled by partnerships with nearly 100 artists, venues, National Voter Registration Day and one-off events in so many pockets of the country, backed by a robust digital presence anchored by our frequently visited Voter Info Hub. It was affirming to know our hustling made a difference to so many voters this year, and incredibly energizing to brainstorm our potential impact on future local, state and federal races, with HeadCount serving as a trusted, nonpartisan source of information and activity all over the country.

So we feasted on compliments and hugs and Hurricane Jerry (don’t ask what’s in this concoction, but it’s delicious and alcoholic). But our bellies were also were stuffed with the BEST early T(L)hanksgiving spread imaginable, extraordinary meal planning and Executive Chef-ing courtesy of 2016 Voter Registration Champion – and the Nashville Team’s favorite human, as Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator – Chris Reed. Y’all don’t even know how this herbivore rejoiced over the number of delicious and nutritious veggie options on the table. Our plates runneth over, and Richmond Lenny brought Chesapeake Bay oysters for palate-cleansing between helpings. :)

Overall, the 2016 HeadCount Retreat allowed us to pause and acknowledge our incredible accomplishments, individually and collectively: for devoting endless hours and mileage to ensure a HeadCount presence at events; for taking thousands of Americans one step closer to exercising their right to vote; and for facilitating a special volunteer experience for hundreds of live music fans this incredibly exhausting Election Year. #MyVolunteerJobPaysTheMost is a fun hashtag we use to humble-brag about the many “pinch me” moments curated by HeadCount, and the Retreat (despite no “sit ins” from the bands and artists we so adore) ranks up there with any I’ve had in eight years, no doubt about it.

Until the next one, guys and gals! Thanks for the memories.