The Heart of Fall Fest is its volunteers, by Dillon Thompson
Update: The 2023 Fall Fest events included Fall Ball, Tour of Homes, Road Race and a 2-day festival in the park including live music with 2 stages, artist market with over 180 vendors, Kidlandia, food trucks, and more. The Fall Fest committee is pleased to announce that all of these events raised over $80,000 for our neighborhood. Fall Ball raised over $10,000. The Tour of Homes raised over $16,500. Fall Festival weekend raised over $59,000. We look forward to a great Fall Fest 2024 celebrating the best neighborhood in ATL!
If you talk to enough people at Fall Fest, you’ll start hearing the same phrase over and over again: “We couldn’t do it without them.”
The “them” in this case are the volunteers — around 200 of them — who make the weekend possible each year. In terms of impact, it’s easily the neighborhood’s most important annual fundraising event, pulling in five-figure amounts that have been spent on initiatives like the Candler Park Playground Project and the Mulberry Fields capital campaign.
“If we do a good job with Fall Fest — getting a lot of sponsors, selling beer, selling merch — then that means we do well as a neighborhood, so we can do things like playground improvement and sidewalk improvement,” Lee Lindsey, the marketing and promo officer for Fall Fest, told the Messenger. “[For] those types of things that are neighborhood improvement, those are the primary ways we get money.”
All that fundraising rests on the shoulders of the neighborhood residents who donate their free time to setting up tents, clearing trash, selling merchandise, coordinating with vendors, plus managing the 5K, Kidlandia, Fall Ball, and the Tour of Homes.
But in the midst of the excitement, it’s easy to forget about those blue-shirted volunteers who keep things moving. The leaves start changing, flyers go out and the neighborhood descends on the Park for an incredible weekend. Then, as if by magic, the streets return to normal within hours. Of course, the “magic” comes from plenty of hard work and long hours.
One Fall Fest volunteer, Andy Deutsch, said the volunteers’ jobs can often feel “thankless.”
“[This event] is only possible because of the tireless work of the organizers and the planning committee,” he said. “So, if you see folks that help plan the festival, thank them.”
It’s an issue many members of the community are aware of. Several members of the Fall Fest Committee — the smaller group of residents who actually plan the event, also on a volunteer basis — told the Messenger it’s crucial for attendees to recognize the people who raise their hands to help out each autumn.
“Fall Fest wouldn’t happen without volunteers,” Fall Fest treasurer Amy Wheeler, who also serves as the CPNO treasurer, said. “Show up, volunteer for Tour of Homes, volunteer for Fall Ball — get to know the people, get to know your neighbors. It is the most rewarding part and it is so fun.”
Despite the sometimes thankless nature of the work, the payoff is clear.
“We work very hard for a weekend,” Wheeler added. “And then you look at everyone having a good time — it’s very special.”
Deutsch, who helped out with Kidlandia and the 5K, said the hardest thing about volunteering was clearing his schedule. However, he was quick to note how rewarding that sacrifice felt.
“[The best part is] feeling like I’m part of the neighborhood,” he said. “The sense of community.”
Members of the Fall Fest Committee, like Wheeler and Lindsey, also sacrifice huge amounts of their free time. Wheeler said the committee began planning this year’s event in January, with regular meetings that often lasted two hours.
Beyond that, she estimated most committee members were spending at least an additional hour on preparation each week. In fact, members couldn’t give an exact estimate of the total hours involved, and it’s easy to see how it’s possible to lose count.
It’s clear the effort is worthwhile, though, considering the number of volunteers who come back to help year after year. Lindsey told the Messenger she’s been helping out since 2017.
“I agreed to help out a little bit, and then it became a lot and just has continued,” she said.
Ultimately, it seems there’s something about the atmosphere — the teamwork, the energy, the excitement of pulling it off — that turns the volunteer experience into an unforgettable part of the year. Wheeler referred to the weekend itself as the “Super Bowl,” the moment when all those hours and all that hard work pays off.
That said, you can’t make it to the Super Bowl without a great team.
Dillon Thompson, a one-year resident of Candler Park, is a writer and editor for the Messenger.