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Emerging Leaders Volunteer Their Time to Get ‘Wet & Wild’

Carnival at the Exceptional Foundation features 158 campers and 42 Regions volunteers.

JULY 21, 2015 - The brief respite from the heat came in the form of a Super Soaker water gun. A young man grinned broadly as his arcing water fell on a gaggle of volunteers, spraying their green T-shirts. On a steamy summer morning, with the heat index already cracking 100 degrees, the good-natured dousing was appreciated.

Cassie Thompson watched the playful action a few feet away. A member of Regions Institutional Services team, Thompson had organized 42 volunteers from the bank’s Emerging Leaders program for the Exceptional Foundation’s Wet & Wild Carnival.

“The Exceptional Foundation does such tremendous things for the community,” Thompson said. “So for us, this is a terrific opportunity to be hands on and engage with the kids instead of simply watching from the sidelines. We’ve got volunteers all over — from the balloon toss and the water slide outside to the arts and crafts room and the bouncy house inside.”

Founded in 1999, the Exceptional Foundation offers social interaction and recreational pursuits for adults and children with disabilities. The annual summer camp held at the nonprofit’s campus in Homewood, a Birmingham, Ala., suburb, has exploded in popularity over the years.

In fact, for the first time in its 22 years, the Exceptional Foundation had to close registration for the summer camp after reaching capacity this year. A new youth center, opening in August, will allow the organization to grow its summer camp and school-year programs again.

The Wet & Wild Carnival provides a day of fun-and-sun activities, as well as refuge indoors, for the Exceptional Foundation campers. Pulling it off is made possible by the wave of volunteers from Regions wearing the green T-shirts.

“The great part about partnering with Regions is that these volunteers are professionals,” said Tricia Kirk, the executive director of the Exceptional Foundation. “Regions has already screened the volunteers, so they come in here respectfully and get straight to work. It really frees our staff to do their job.

“In return, the Regions volunteers get to see that while we have 158 mentally and physically challenged people here, we also have 158 different personalities. And, as they see, our people love to have visitors.”

Volunteers from Regions worked from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., utilizing the company’s What a Difference a Day Makes volunteer program to work with a nonprofit that has been intertwined with Regions since its inception.

Kevin Phillips, who works with endowments and foundations for Regions Institutional Services team, attended his second Wet & Wild Carnival as a volunteer.

“They’ve told us they want this to be an annual program, and we’d love that,” Phillips said. “It’s fun to come out on a day like this. We get to see smiles and we get to see how we can impact the participants. Trust me, I get more out of it than they do because it’s all about helping someone have a good day.”

Since originating in Metro Birmingham, the Exceptional Foundation has opened campuses in Fairhope, Ala., and Memphis. A fourth Exceptional Foundation is scheduled to open in Charlotte, N.C.

“As it does here, Regions is a major supporter of those programs,” Kirk said. “I think what sets this day apart, though, is that you have a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t just write checks. They get actively involved in what you are doing.”

Kirk paused for a moment, then smiled.

“I only have one complaint,” she said. “It’s harder to get a (Regions’ Life Green) bicycle from them than it is to get money.”

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