For the members of the Parrot Head Club of Eastern Massachusetts [PHCOEM], each October is marked by a trip to the Cape. Not to avoid crowds at the beach and drive freely back and forth over the Bourne Bridge, club members make the journey to volunteer at the annual Special Olympics Massachusetts Senior Sports Classic.
For anyone who doesn’t know, a “Parrot Head” is a fan of and devotee to the music and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett. Caribbean themed tunes rise above the sizzle of burgers and dogs on the grill as the Parrot Heads prepare food for the 150+ athletes, 90 volunteers and countless family members, coaches and spectators. The President of the club, Karen Feldeisen, who goes by the name Sunshine, stepped away from the outdoor prep kitchen to let us know why this group of fun-in-the-sun-loving Parrot Heads volunteer their time with SOMA.
When asked about the origin of this relationship, Sunshine goes back over 30 years – “There are a lot of us [Parrot Heads] that have done coaching for years. I started with Special Olympics in 1983 and it’s now our main charity. We help a lot of charities. We work with Alzheimer’s, MS and others, but Special Olympics is our main charity.”
The relationship is highlighted on the group’s website:
Back in 1994, PHCOEM was supporting a wide variety of community causes. A suggestion was made by one of our members that we should focus more attention on helping people. And thus, we began our relationship with the Massachusetts Special Olympics. The Special Olympics gives us an opportunity to help out year round and it provides our club with both volunteer and fund-raising event opportunities. Plus, we get to experience the results of our efforts immediately in the infectious smiles and warm hugs from the athletes.
This was certainly not the parrot head’s first rodeo, in addition to helping with lunch at the Senior Sports Classic each fall, Karen described some of their involvement throughout the year “We do the regional games, state-level games for the winter and summer seasons. We do the dance at Summer Games and for Winter Games, we do the dance and the Olympic Town. We cook at several different locations including Taunton, Brockton, Summer Games at BU and Winter Games in Worcester. We help with the Jolly Jaunts. We do a lot of stuff with Massachusetts Law Enforcement Torch Run – we do the truck pull, Polar Plunge and some of us plunged in -11 degrees. It was awesome!”It sounds like this group of Parrot Heads gets in some beach time even in the winter in New England!
While we can certainly see the benefit to SOMA and all of the athletes competing at the events, what do the Parrot Heads get out of this relationship? Karen remarks “It’s one of the volunteer things that you do that you really are hands on with the athletes. You’re helping the athletes. You see the athletes. You see them come with their medals and they’re so proud. Any little thing you do for them, they are so appreciative. You can go from one event to another and the athletes remember you personally. It’s the best group of people. It’s just awesome!”
If you are interested in helping out at a future event, Karen has a warning “It’ll change your heart forever. You’re gonna get hooked.”
Back at the food tent, lunch is being served and the athletes are taking a much deserved break before the afternoon competition. After grabbing my meal and taking a seat in the middle of all the action, I couldn’t help but realize I was enjoying a Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Thanks to the Parrot Head Club of Eastern Massachusetts and all of the volunteers who lent a helping hand at the 2015 Senior Sports Classic!