Our community also includes those who will never row, and those volunteers deserve just as much recognition. While they might not be getting PR’s on 2K tests every few weeks, their contributions can be just as impressive. Such is the case of Vanessa Harder, the SRA Volunteer of the Year for 2018.
Susan Freeberg spoke at the September 2017 mandatory parent meeting that Harder attended (as a novice parent), where Freeberg asked for someone to take charge and manage the food tent at regattas.
Since she was in the 7th grade, Harder has been volunteering, beginning with National Charity League (NCL) which is a mother – daughter philanthropy organization she joined with her mother. Fun fact, Harder and both her daughters have been a part of NCL here in Washington. Her donation of time and devotion to her community continued through high school, college, and up till now. When those emails kept flooding her inbox, looking for an SRA food tent leader, she felt like she should check it out. Harder said, “The thing is that it’s been with me for so long [volunteering] that giving back is part of who I am.” All her life, Harder had always focused on giving back to her community. She has logged far too many volunteer hours to count and has been involved in numerous organizations and sports. “My volunteering resume is more extensive than my career resume,” she said
A lot of what she does with the food tent, she had to learn herself; alongside her husband, or from other volunteers. Not only is she intensely focused on doing everything properly and in an organized manner, she also adds her own personal touch. She recalls once making several gallon sized zip-lock bags of homemade dry rub to flavor the steak and chicken for the chipotle style protein bowls, now know as “SRA Bowls” they had at the food tent for junior regionals last year. She focuses on staying away from pre-made food, and invests time in researching healthy, nutritious meals and snacks for the rowers and coaches.
Harder works in tandem with Pam Halverson, another junior parent, who is in charge of looking at food alternatives for athletes with allergies to ensure that every rower has plenty to eat regardless of the limits of their diets. Harder said, “We want volunteers to be happy. Getting parents engaged in the food tent and close to the racecourse makes them love it.” Harder and her husband contributed a gift to the food tent supplies- bright red Williams Sonoma aprons with the SRA logo on front. Donning these aprons, and red SRA hats, volunteers feel like they are truly part of the team as well- and they are.
Harder has taught her children to “leave everything better than you found it,” and she is applying the same principles to her volunteer work at SRA. She finds under buying food for regattas “unacceptable” and make sure every rower can have as many servings as they like to properly fuel for races, while also making sure she is fiscally responsible to stay within SRA’s budget. Her personal touch is seen everywhere from her hand crafted menus to the oatmeal bar wagon she plans to have at Regionals this year. Her desire to make volunteering at the food tent a pleasant experience has dramatically risen the number of parents who sign up to volunteer and wear the now famous red aprons.
Kennedy is finishing up her sophomore year so the Harder’s plan to be around a little while longer. However, Vanessa is already preparing to pass on the food tent baton. “When the time comes, I want to hand it off better than I found it”. For now, she is savoring every experience as her daughter continues participating in the sport she loves.
SRA has amazing athletes, no question about it, but we also have an incredible support system. People generously give their time, attention, and effort to make this organization, “better than they found it,” as Harder would say. Without our volunteers, much of what we do wouldn’t be possible. It truly takes a team- one made up of more than just athletes- to accomplish our mission. Thank you to Vanessa Harder, SRA’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year, and all of our volunteers for the outstanding work you do for our team.