Roots N Blues N BBQ volunteer makes the festival accessible for everyone
Melissa Langley shares her experience as an ADA volunteer with her “one big family.”
Roots N Blues N BBQ offers Columbia much more than great music and savory barbecue; the people who come together and offer their time to the community truly unite it in a way that no brisket ever could. Many of these hardworking individuals are volunteers, who perform a variety of services for anyone and everyone at the festival.
MOVE spoke with second-year volunteer Melissa Langley about why she loves helping out at Roots N Blues N BBQ, how she got into volunteering and what makes this festival so great.
Q: What do you do as a volunteer at the festival?
A: I assist in taking our disabled guests around the park via motorized handicapped carts so that they can enjoy the numerous activities, music and great food.
Q: Describe your experiences volunteering with Roots N Blues N BBQ.
A: I love the fact that the festival provides assistance to those who would otherwise find it too difficult to attend. They have found a way to include and accommodate just about everyone. I think that’s awesome and is what makes Columbia such an amazing town. I met so many wonderful people last year and they were all so gracious and appreciative. Everyone at the festival works together like one big family. It’s amazing and I’m honored to be part of it.
Q: How did you get into volunteering at the festival? Did anything specifically inspire you to do that?
A: Being single and having just moved back to Columbia in 2015 after a twenty-year hiatus elsewhere, I was looking for volunteer opportunities in Columbia as an alternative way of meeting people. I met former Sen. Chuck Graham at a political fundraiser at Whiskey Wild when I was the house dance instructor. We became good friends and eventually neighbors. He told me about the volunteer opportunities at Roots and Blues and suggested I volunteer in the ADA section, as he is the ADA coordinator. I jumped at the chance. Chuck was left paralyzed after a car accident at the age of 16. Knowing Chuck as a friend, and having seen him navigate through his home and through Columbia in his wheelchair, I’ve seen some of the obstacles that he faces on a day to day basis. Although these tasks are completely normal to him, and he thinks nothing of happily trekking his way everywhere, I can’t help but think of how much more effort he has to put forward to do tasks that I take for granted. I feel like it’s the least I can do and it makes me feel good.
Q: Why do you love volunteering at Roots N Blues N BBQ?
A: It makes me feel like I’m truly part of my community. I learned from an early age about volunteering from my grandparents who delivered “Meals on Wheels.” My sisters and I tagged along for many summers and spring breaks as my grandma and grandpa took meals to people who couldn’t get out of their homes or even afford the food at times. I remember the sense of satisfaction I got knowing that these people were eating a warm meal because of our efforts. It’s an indescribable pride that comes from the giving of your time with no expectation in return. The volunteers of RBBBQ do get “compensated,” per-say, by getting to attend part of the festival for free, but I don’t think that’s why everyone does it. It’s nice being part of something that brings so much unity to our city. So many people have come together to coordinate this massive event. People come from near and far, yet it feels like we are one big family.
Q: What makes Roots N Blues so special?
A: What I think makes it so special is that it’s all inclusive in every way. From the services provided, like free buses and ADA assistance to the wide range of people that attend (i.e. adults, children and elderly), the different genres of music (both on a national and local level), and the range of food vendors, crafts, the art and activities. Even the hours being from morning til night, so everyone can enjoy some part of it. Let’s not forget the program the organizers have put in place in our schools for the kids to learn about blues music, [Blues in the Schools]. Plus the fact that the organizers have made huge efforts to have “green” containers around the event to promote recycling. I guess the better questions would be what “isn’t” special about Roots N Blues. It’s just part of what makes Columbia a great place to live.