Three Reasons I Volunteer for Winter Party Festival
Imagine standing in the sun with a view of the ocean in Miami Beach, surrounded by friendly people from all over the world and close friends from all walks of life, and dancing to a song about deflecting all the criticism and cruel words that we face daily. For a moment, invincibility seems possible and love seems endless. Every year thousands experience Winter Party Festival, a week-long celebration in Miami Beach that raises funds for South Florida LGBTQ organizations as well as the National LGBTQ Task Force. The festival programming includes night events, an art show, a VIP cocktail reception, movie screenings, and one infamous beach party located on the sands of South Beach.
The 2017 festival will mark my fourth as a volunteer for Winter Party. My motivations have evolved over that time, so finding just one reason for volunteering or even attending was difficult. As I started thinking about this post, I came across three themes for, “Why Winter Party?”
In Rea Carey’s speech during the National LGBTQ Task Force Gala – Miami (formerly the Miami Recognition Dinner) she said, “To be fully and freely you. Can you imagine what that’d look like?” Winter Party is that space for many, where attendees, volunteers, committee members, and everyone involved are free to be themselves without judgment. From Task Force staff walking around the Beach Party wearing bonnets to our allies greeted with hugs and smiles, Winter Party is the place to “be you.”
The stories attendees tell about their Winter Party experiences make the year of long volunteer hours and hard work all worth it. Throwback Thursday posts on Instagram captioned with, “Take me back,” paragraph-long Facebook posts about friends creating life-long memories, and personalized thank yous from attendees are indicative of the passion and love for Winter Party and the Task Force. I leave Winter Party every year with a smile and a feeling that we changed the world, or maybe just Miami Beach, even if only for a week.
Giving attendees a space to express themselves also means creating opportunities for friends to reunite and forge lifelong relationships; I can attest to that Winter Party promise, as it’s something I personally experience. I attended my first Winter Party in 2011 and there created deep, lasting friendships and bonded over the incredible experiences on and off the dance floor with some of my favorite people.
With over $2.1 million raised for South Florida LGBTQ organizations, Winter Party Festival is not just a party and series of social events. Funds raised benefit organizations that support homeless LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ counseling, and many important causes to our community.
Winter Party is also more than a fundraiser; it is an opportunity for education and advocacy. In 2016, organizations like Impulse – South Florida, AIDS United, and The Miami Collaborative MSM Workgroup created unique activities during the festival to deliver important messages to attendees and advocate for their causes. Impulse – South Florida set up HIV testing in one our VIP cabanas at the sold-out pool party, giving them access to educate and test thousands of guests.
The Task Force has created and maintained a special culture for the hundreds of people working on Winter Party unlike any organization I’ve been a part of. The passion for building the week-long celebration is contagious, and the support and care for the volunteers and employees is endless.
Perhaps it’s a cliché, but the work I do for Winter Party never feels like work. And what’s even better is that great people, who I’m proud to call friends, are part of this journey each year. Members of the marketing committee, unlike any other Winter Party committee, are located all over the U.S. in New York, North Carolina, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C., San Diego, and Los Angeles. Though not able to meet physically, they demonstrate their commitment to the organization through long hours, numerous meetings, and strategic thinking, leveraging their expertise to help elevate Winter Party year after year.
As Vice-Chair for the 2017 Winter Party Festival, I’m more excited than ever for the road ahead. Winter Party, like any entity, is ever evolving. Each and every volunteer will play a part in forming the next iteration and the one after. After a preview of the team for 2017, I feel confident in saying that it will be the best Winter Party year yet.
by Stephen Seo