Veteran volunteers turn Water Festival work into a tiring, rewarding vacation

July 13, 2009 

Bonnie and Dan Thompson hustled to help other Beaufort Water Festival volunteers coverarts and craft tents while others protected lighting and sound equipment set up for Motown Monday as thunderstorms drenched the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

It's an unglamorous aspect of the job but, as many organizers have said, so are most responsibilities the all-volunteer Water Festival staff takes on year after year.

"I keep coming back because every year is a challenge to make the festival better," said Bonnie Thompson. "You get sucked into the two weeks of fun, and it's so satisfying to see all of the planning come to fruition."

Thompson, a massage therapist, and her husband, Dan,who works for Hargray Telephone Co.,have volunteered with the Water Festival for nine years.

They take two weeks of vacation time each Julyto help set up and carry out the 10-day series of events.

In 2000, Dan Thompson worked the festival as a Port Royal reserve police officer. Since then he's worked in a variety of areas, this year as the sales and admissions coordinator.

"We have the same people coming back every year donating their time, and we've become like a big family," Dan Thompson said. "It's all about giving back to the community, offering wholesome activities and different events for all age groups."

Program coordinator Sheri Little said a core group of organizers begin monthly meetings in September to plan the next year's festival. Meetings become more frequent as show time approaches.

During the week leading up to opening ceremonies and throughout the festival, volunteers often put in 18-hour days to ensure events run smoothly, Bonnie Thompson said.

By the end of the festival, more than 400 people have volunteered in some way, she said.

Thompson stood by the arts and crafts market Sunday as crafters approached her with questions ranging from the schedule to moving their tent closer to the park once the weekend-only vendors left.

As arts and crafts director, the market is one of her primary responsibilities. Each director and coordinator organize one or more aspects of the festival, such as event bookings, public relations and marketing, sales, sponsorships, set up, production and sporting events

In addition, many civic organizations help man festival gates, sell T-shirts, give people their IDs and fill in wherever needed, Little said.

"This is truly the most community-oriented festival," she said.

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