The Washington Center Honors Service to Community with the Al Rynties Volunteer Excellence Award

Al Rynties motto was “bark less, wag more.” He lived by this phrase and encouraged others to adopt it, knowing that spreading kindness and helping others was the secret to a happy life.

“Al was a treasured member of our community and an integral part of the volunteer army at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,” shares volunteer coordinator Stacy Hicks. Al passed away suddenly last year at the age of 75 and, while the community mourned his loss, they also celebrated his legacy – service to others while living a whole-hearted, generous life.

Washington Center volunteer
Al Rynties passed away suddenly last year. The Washington Center created the Al Rynties Volunteer Excellence Award to honor his cheerful and wholehearted service to others. Photo courtesy: Maureen Sullivan.

“Volunteering at The Washington Center was a wonderful experience for both of us,” says Al’s longtime partner Maureen Sullivan, also a Washington Center volunteer. “Al was just a natural at it. He loved people and could talk to anybody. I think he would have been just amazed and so surprised to know an award was named after him. He never would have expected that!”

Hicks recalls Al’s great smile and willingness to work with everyone at The Washington Center. “Even though Al only started volunteering a few years ago, this really is an award for all the volunteers that have been around for the past 30 years,” she says. “Al knew all the different jobs and really connected with everyone. He exemplified the type of volunteer we love at The Washington Center.”

The Washington Center staff instigated the award in honor of The Center’s 30th season and will present it annually at the Volunteer Party each June. One of the greatest things about the “Al Award” is that recipients are nominated and selected by the volunteers themselves.

Washington Center volunteers
The first annual “Al Award” was given to Nancy Charbonneau, honoring her 31+ years of service as a Washington Center Volunteer. Pictured from left, Jill Barns, Executive Director, Stacy Hicks, Volunteer Coordinator, Nancy and Maureen Sullivan. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center.

The inaugural winner of the award was Nancy Charbonneau who began volunteering at The Washington Center during its first season in 1985. “I was working on the Capitol Campus at the time and came down to tour the newly opened theater,” she recalls. “I picked up a brochure on volunteering and have been there ever since.”

Nancy was caught completely off-guard by the award, which made it all the more fun. “I knew about the award but my laptop had been broken so I didn’t even see that I’d been nominated. I had no idea,” she laughs, adding how meaningful it was that she was selected by her fellow volunteers.

During her long tenure as a volunteer, Nancy has seen too many shows to count. When asked why she continues to volunteer she says, “I enjoy meeting people the most. It’s quite fun working with the staff and other volunteers. Plus, it’s an important service volunteers provide since The Washington Center is a non-profit organization. If they had to pay employees, they probably couldn’t make it.” In addition, she notes the wide variety of events she’s seen over the years as a side-benefit of her volunteer service. “There would be no way I could have paid to see the things I’ve seen over the years from high school proms to national shows.”

Washington Center volunteer
The “Al Award” plaque hangs just to the right of the Orchestra level theater entry at The Washington Center and will be updated annually with new recipients of the award.

The award means a great deal to Nancy and all the volunteers, particularly Maureen. “What The Washington Center staff really liked about Al – what I’m so glad they saw in him – is that he was always whole-hearted, no matter what he did,” says Maureen. “He did everything with his whole heart and soul. He would do any role, see things that needed to be done, and just go ahead and do it. Always a willing helper and very generous.”

Al’s generosity and care extended beyond the walls of The Washington Center, too. “He was so involved locally, but it went beyond that,” says Maureen. “I still get mail from The Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Special Olympics, Nature Conservancy, the ACLU and the list goes on. He was concerned about not just people, but animals and our world, too.”

Al’s signature motto came from his love of dogs. He was a dedicated part of CCI – Canine Companions for Independence, taking puppies into his home and training them for 18 months to be companion animals for those with disabilities. Inevitably a few dogs stuck around and Al and Maureen always had a houseful of canine companions themselves.

Washington Center volunteer
Al Rynties’ motto for life was one that he embodied every day of his life. These buttons were given out at his memorial.

The next time you are at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, take a peek at the Al Rynties Volunteer Excellence Award plaque near the Orchestra level door and think of Al. Maybe you’ll be inspired to become a volunteer, too. Signing up is easy. Visit the volunteer page online and attend a one-hour volunteer training at The Center.

“I think we could all benefit from adopting a little more of Al’s motto,” says Nancy.

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