Volunteers are the Fuel of Irish Fest

Kansas City’s annual festival celebrating Irish heritage places a unique importance on volunteerism.


Junior volunteers Leah Dorris, left, and Madeline Loehr check the recycling bins for non-recyclable products Sept. 1. This was both girls first time volunteering at the Irish Fest. photo by Grace Fiorella

by Mary Massman and Grace Fiorella

As senior Kelsey Scanlon steps onto Crown Center square, she is greeted with the energy of thousands of people flooding the streets, upbeat live music playing and the smell of food trucks. As she makes her way through the crowds, she is reminded of why she loves being apart of such a unique gathering.

“I couldn’t imagine not going,” Scanlon said. “It’s an ongoing party.”

Scanlon, a member of the kid’s committee, represents one of about 1500 volunteers who help to put on Kansas City’s Irish Festival every year. As an annual festival-goer, Scanlon has seen the unique volunteer aspect that makes the festival possible.

“Volunteers are the backbone of the Irish Fest,” Scanlon said. “It would not be possible without them.”

Fortunately, with 45 differing areas of volunteering, a free t-shirt, great bands and an overall lively event, volunteers are not difficult to find. Junior Leah Dorris chose to get involved this year helping with recycling and ultimately hopes to gain more than just service hours.

“It’s a local festival more unique to Kansas City, so you get a deeper connection with the Kansas City community when you volunteer,” Dorris said. “ It’s a good way to interact with new people.”

Another pull of festival volunteering is the user-friendly registration and overall coordination. This component stood out to Dorris and aided in making involvement as effortless as possible.

“I would say It’s one of the most organized volunteer opportunities that I’ve had,” Dorris said. “That’s really important when you’re volunteering, to have it be organized enough, so you know what you’re doing and where you need to be.”

The simplicity and entertainment of the festival lead to many people of the community being drawn to help. Scanlon has seen who makes up the volunteer force over the years, and it isn’t solely one age group.

“There’s a wide range of volunteers,” Scanlon said. “It takes all ages and a lot of different people from different backgrounds. Not everyone on the board is Irish, you don’t have to be.”

Everyone is welcome to volunteering because they are all necessary for such a large event. Irish Fest board secretary Sarah Walsh has watched volunteers return year after year to help showcase the many facets of our culture in the festival.

“Without our 1200+ volunteers we could never put on an event of this size and magnitude,” Walsh said. “We bring in 85,000 attendees over a weekend, we sell out two major hotels for this event, we boost the economy on a typically slow weekend by offering this event.”

Both volunteers and coordinators feel the shared goal is every person walking away with a great experience. Dorris agrees with Walsh that the festival is a team effort, given that so many people take part in contributing to the betterment of the community.

“It’s a huge event, and it’s so important to Kansas City culture and the community, that everybody wants it to go as smoothly as possible,” Dorris said. “They have all the people in the community come together and organize it to the point that everybody has a really great time.”

According to Walsh, the importance of student volunteers, in particular, is not lost on any single coordinator, and their significance is shown and greatly valued. Walsh feels that student volunteers are essential to the improvement of the festival.

“For this event to keep moving forward and evolving it’s critical that we recruit at the student level,” Walsh said. “We never want this festival to be redundant. Students keep our fest relevant to the current times.”

When it comes to student volunteers, they may get as much from the festival as the festival gets from them. Scanlon explains the rewards of volunteering are evident no matter how big the commitment is.

“Even if you’re just a volunteer, you can make a difference and your impact is shown,” Scanlon said. “Even if you can go for a few hours on a Saturday, it makes a difference in our community.”