The Hidden Gems of the Annual Sea Glass Festival: A Look Behind the Scenes

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Volunteers during our 2017 North American Sea Glass Festival, creating new friends and memories to last a lifetime!

For sea glass enthusiasts, there are many reasons to celebrate the spring, one of which is the highly anticipated announcement of NASGA’s annual festival. Hence, as recently publicized, the association’s 13th annual North American Sea Glass Festival will take place on Oct. 27 – 28 at The Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Although it can be difficult to capture the wonder of the festival in words, chairperson Roxann Williams paints a fairly accurate picture: “The North American Sea Glass Association is unique; it is a love of history, reclamation, recycling, and treasure -hunting, all wrapped into one. It’s extremely rewarding to see the excitement and joy of our attendees as they learn through our lectures and shard identification experts, and purchase unique and artistic pieces from the exhibitors to add to their home and jewelry collections.”

However, unlike annual events that are held in the same location, and on similar dates each year, the fact that the sea glass festival is a “traveling show” requires never ending planning and fails to lighten the workload from one year to the next. For instance, solely selecting a venue each year – one that can not only accommodate the specific needs of the festival, but is also affordable, conveniently located for the majority of exhibitors and attendees, and available on preferable dates – can be particularly challenging. Promoting and advertising the event can be trying too, especially since the members of the planning committee, who also vary from year to year, are often unfamiliar with the city chosen to host the event. Yet probably the most difficult task associated with a traveling festival is recruiting volunteers, and NASGA could not be more blessed in this area.

While enlisting help is vital to the success of a show, it requires a very special person to establish a group of loyal, devoted volunteers. Therefore, the association is indebted to our festival chairperson, who just happens to possess such talent. Williams, an ardent sea glass fan who has extensive experience in the non-profit sector, was asked to chair NASGA’s fifth annual festival in Hyannis Port, MA during 2010, and no one else has been given a chance to fill her shoes ever since. Her strong organizational skills and compassionate nature make Williams an ideal mentor and leader, and she has a knack for fostering meaningful friendships and camaraderie among the festival volunteers. As long-time NASGA volunteer Dr. Barbara Boyce states, “The people are the reason I volunteer my time for this event, and Roxann (Williams) and her husband, Steve, are great people and easy to work with. They deal extremely well with all of the challenges and stresses of putting on a fantastic festival.”

According to Williams, without the excitement and commitment of the volunteers, it would be difficult to handle all of the behind-the-scenes tasks that allow the festival to operate smoothly. Throughout the event, as avid hobbyists display their impressive sea glass collections, exhibitors offer their artwork and books, and speakers share their special knowledge, the volunteers oversee NASGA’s information table, distribute tickets and programs, answer questions, direct attendees, and provide coverage for exhibitor booths. And on Sunday, the second and final day of the show, the volunteers assist with the culminating event, the infamous SOTY (“Shard Of The Year”) Contest, which many consider the highlight of the festival. For the contest, attendees are encouraged to enter their most impressive sea glass finds, and cash prizes are awarded for the “winning shard” in each category (frosted bottle, art glass, buttons/beads, figural, most unusual, whimsical toys, pottery/ceramics, historical, marbles, and the grand prize, the “Overall Beauty”). The contest is comparable to a “traveling sea glass museum” and is an absolute treat for those interested in the pastime.

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Dr. Barbara Boyce & Sharon Brubaker enjoying some beachcoming together.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Boyce and her friend Sharon Brubaker were inspired to contribute to the event due to their mutual affection for sea glass. In September of 2014, the two friends embarked on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey to volunteer at the association’s 9th annual festival, which proved to be a particularly memorable experience. For the first time in the show’s history, the number of attendees exceeded the maximum capacity of the ballroom, and the fire marshal had to step in to monitor the number of individuals exiting and entering the hall. As Boyce suggests, “The Cape May NASGA festival was my first experience. Every person who attended can likely recall a crazy, fun, and crowded time. I was hooked. I thought I was familiar with sea glass through reading, but I realized that I had much to learn. The folks at NASGA are the experts, and I drank in every word and could not wait until the next year to volunteer.” Today, both Boyce and Brubaker are extremely knowledgeable about sea glass, and it is a joy to observe them respond to questions from attendees and help educate the public about the tumbled treasures.

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Faith McCarthy, the festival’s youngest volunteer and 2017 NASGA documentary, “Sea Glass around the Globe” producer/director

Each year, the allure of the hobby encourages seasoned and new volunteers alike to contribute to the festival. Among the group of devoted “regulars” are mother and daughter teams, husband and wife pairs, and close peers who share a passion for sea glass and enjoy working together. Some volunteers have been assisting at the festival for over six years, and as each show kicks off, it is especially rewarding to overhear shrieks of delight as friendships are reignited between returning exhibitors, volunteers, and attendees. Yet even though NASGA is blessed with loyal volunteers, further support at the show is always welcome, so the association reaches out by advertising on the festival’s Facebook page and contacting local sea glass groups and non-profits, as well as the hosting city’s Chamber of Commerce in an effort to recruit enthusiasts.

Particularly when an event is running smoothly, attendees are unlikely to give any thought to the source of organization and support behind the scenes. Therefore, it bodes well for the sea glass festival that those who are busy pulling the strings often go unnoticed. However, if it seems to defy logic that the individuals who do the most work also receive the least amount of credit, keep in mind that the explanation is all in a name: “volunteer” – a person who does something, especially for other people or for an organization, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it” (dictionary.cambridge.org). A statement made by volunteer Sharon Brubaker lends credence to the definition, “It has been a pleasure to interact with everyone at NASGA.  Now that I am a repeat volunteer, I genuinely look forward to seeing sea glass kindred spirits each year.”  Without a doubt, the NASGA volunteers are the hidden gems of the annual festival.

Interested in Volunteering this year for our 13th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Wildwood, NJ on October 27-28, 2018? Please email Roxann at festival@seaglassassociation.org