By Katie Lovett
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A Newburyport native, Michael Volpone knows the important role volunteers play in this city — especially when it comes to running the annual summer celebration, Yankee Homecoming.
If not for the 80 to 100 people who step up each year to volunteer their skills and time, the festival wouldn’t happen. There is no paid director of the celebration; it’s planned and organized solely by volunteers.
This fact was among several reasons that led Volpone, the general chairman of this year’s celebration, to pick the Yankee Homecoming theme: “Volunteer: You Make the Difference.” The festival will be held from July 27 to Aug. 3.
“Yankee Homecoming has been very fortunate to have had several thousand dedicated and gifted volunteers over the past 56 years. I know this year we will continue this custom and encourage new people to join us,” Volpone wrote in his chairman’s message on the Yankee Homecoming website.
While many volunteers return each year, Volpone said the planning committee tends to lose two or three volunteers each year, and are always looking for new faces to join in. This year, due to circumstances like work schedules and other commitments, Volpone had to fill five of the major volunteer positions on the committee, he said.
He’s hopeful more residents will volunteer their time and talent as they become aware of the need, he said.
“We’re hoping to get another 15 or 20 a year,” he added. “The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.”
Planning for the summer festival has already started. Volpone and his committee members have been working on setting the schedule of events, which will include the return of some old favorites that have been absent in recent years, including a fashion show and a boat parade.
Organizers are also working with the mayor’s office to incorporate the city’s milestone anniversary into some of the week’s programs. Newburyport is marking its 250th anniversary this year.
Volpone said Yankee Homecoming will also include a new event that’s close to his heart: a softball tournament that will raise money for three charities. He envisions a format where the tournament will begin with round robin play earlier in the summer through which teams will be eliminated, until the winning team gets to play a local professional team or a celebrity during Yankee Homecoming week.
In addition to serving as a fundraiser for Yankee Homecoming, the tournament will also raise funds for the RESTORE Our Stadium committee, which is seeking to improve and renovate the high school’s World War Memorial Stadium, and ALS research, in honor of Volpone’s friend and Newburyport native Brent Paulhus, who passed away from the disease last year.
The Yankee Homecoming committee will host a social to welcome new and returning volunteers on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Michael’s Harborside. Board members and past chairpersons will be on hand to answer questions. All interested volunteers are urged to attend. Volunteers do not need to live in Newburyport.
The committee’s kickoff meeting will be held on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at Starboard Galley. Meetings generally last for about an hour. A full schedule of all meetings can be found at the Yankee Homecoming website, http://yankeehomecoming.com/volunteer/.
“It’s open to anybody that wants to get involved,” Volpone said. “We’re really looking forward to it.”