The Wright stuff

It’s been a long time since Sarahanne Wright first discovered the secret to happiness. Since the day she learned what it was, her life has never been the same.

“I like being in a community where I can see the difference I make,” said Wright, 30, a Ypsilanti, MI resident, who works as the catering director for ARAMARK at the University of Toledo. Recently, Wright was honored for her efforts with a silver Jefferson Award, a national recognition for people performing community service. Wright has earned other meaningful rewards as a volunteer for the Ypsilanti Area Jaycees. “We run the Easter egg hunt for the city. We have a helicopter drop thousands of marshmallows over a park,” said Wright. “The kids turn them in for candy.”

Wright also lends a hand at the event with youngsters posing for pictures with the Easter bunny. “Two years ago, we had just finished and there was a little girl about 5. She was just sobbing,” said Wright. The child’s mom told Wright they didn’t have enough money to pay for the photograph. (Families are charged $1 for the photo to cover the cost of the film.) “Another volunteer and I scrambled in our pockets and were able to put together the dollar fee and the little girl got her picture with the Easter bunny,” said Wright. “If you can put a smile on one kid’s face you’ve done your job.”

Wright and her fellow Jaycees also produce the city’s Heritage Festival parade, when politicians, boy scouts, baton twirlers and marching bands take to the streets. Volunteers turn the area into a family paradise with carnival rides, pioneer history reinanctors and a baseball game played in uniforms and with rules from 1910. “Most of what we do revolves around families and children,” said Wright. “Ypsilanti has been hit hard by the economy and discontinued a lot of its programs. The Jaycees have stepped in to help.” One of the highlights of the parade is the Precious Pets contest. Youngsters submit photos voted on by residents, with the winners earning the right to march down the avenue with their best friend. “Last year, someone entered a snail in the Precious Pets. To that kid it was precious,” said Wright. “I think he carried it in his hand in the parade.”

Wright doesn’t only volunteer for the Jaycees. Her charitable efforts through her employer, ARAMARK, have also produced results. Employees are encouraged to help out at community centers.
“We do gardening and maintain buildings,” she said. “Next weekend we’re doing a nutrition fair for kids and families. We’ll show them how to cook healthy simple snacks.” Last winter, Wright took it upon herself to engage students and coworkers at The University of Toledo to donate over 2,000 pounds of perishable food to the Cherry Street Mission (a homeless shelter in Toledo) so it wouldn’t go to waste when the residence halls shut down over winter break.

Throughout her volunteering, Wright has gained unexpected rewards. “First, you get the intrinsic happiness of helping someone out. That’s something money can’t buy. Your career is the second reason,” she said. Unemployed volunteers can make contacts and gain skills that will help them land a post. “If you have a job, you’re improving your people skills, learning how to organize projects, how to stick to a timeline and budget,” she said. “All those skills could help you get your next promotion.” Wright isn’t going to stop her efforts any time soon. “I want to be out there helping humanity,” she said.