“You might not think of yourself as someone who does volunteer work, but it’s really easy. Our volunteer experience never looks like just one set of people. You have people from different social circles, it’s the artists, it’s the rappers… to where service is not something I have to do, it’s something I ENJOY doing. So I’m going to keep doing it to the best of my ability – HOWEVER it looks.”

At any given Hive Society event, it’s easy to spot Raquel Seymone. She’s the lovely girl with the big head of hair who’s often hustling, sometimes laughing, but always making sure everyone is enjoying themselves. When she isn’t blogging about her travel experiences, the Hive Society’s Community Event Director commmits herself to service with a purpose.

She’s also the brains behind Houston CARES, the Hive Society’s annual community service project at Houston Food Bank. The project’s third installment occurs this weekend, and feels even more significant in a post-Harvey Houston. We sat down with Raquel this past weekend to get more background on CARES, her thoughts on volunteering as a whole, and why giving back bigger than any all of us.

You can read our full interview below, but remember to RSVP for The Hive Society’s “Houston CARES” event here. It goes down this Saturday, September 30th, from 1-4 PM at Houston Food Bank.


So, this is really about to be the third… or fourth… year that Houston CARES has happened?

Three years. Wow.

You sound more shocked than me!

I mean, we sit down and plan it out every it out year. it’s just one of those things where I’m like, “Wow, we’ve really done this. And this’ll be the third time we’ve done this.”

What made you first come up with the idea for Houston CARES? I mean, The Hive Society has a reputation for being community minded and always doing service projects. But in terms of this concept – where it’s like, “we’re going to get a bunch of people, and make a bunch of meals, for a bunch of other people” – how did that come about?

Well, people are not going to believe this, but Houston CARES started out as my birthday project. Everyone was asking me, “Oh, what are you going to do for your birthday?” And the Hive Society was still very new at the time, but still doing community service. And Houston Food Bank, I’d been working with THEM for a long time, even before joining the Hive Society, so I reached out them and they were told me, “Sure, you can do your birthday party here. We can hold up to 1,000 people.” And I was like, “Great! We’re really going to invite 1,000 people!” I have a penchant to be very ambitious with my plans and ideas, so I was a little worried that not many folks would come out. But the Hive and I talked about it and we were like, “You know what? Let’s just do it. Let’s just invite 1,000 people and see if they show up.”

And so, on my 24th birthday, we had about 800 people come out to Houston Food Bank and help. And at the end, all 800 people sang Happy Birthday to me which was terrifying! But also, amazing, too.

Was it held on your actual birthday?

Just a couple days before. We held it on October 17th, and my birthday is the 19th.

But wasn’t it held in September like last year?

No, we actually did the first two in October. There was a decrease in turnout from the first year to the second year, though, by about 100 people. So in my head, I felt we needed to re-strategize.

Houston Food Bank then pitched the idea to me that, “Hey, let’s do it during Hunger Action Week” this year. And to me, at that point, Houston CARES had become bigger than me, you know? I felt like it no longer had to be attached to my birthday – like it had become its own standalone thing. It just so happened that, this year, the last day of Hunger Action Month was a Saturday, so it worked out perfectly.

And this week is Hunger Action Week?

Well, no, September is Hunger Action Month, period. This year, it was actually kind of weird because we’d begun planning this out in the Spring and we had this whole, “It’s gonna be a big thing, this call to action” type theme going and then, of course, [Hurricane] Harvey came.

Right.

And it threw things off a little, because it’s still Hunger Action Month but the Food Bank is still in disaster relief mode. It threw off our scheduling and we honestly weren’t sure we’d be able to do it at first. But we sat down and once we got our wits about us, we were like, “Houston CARES still needs to happen.” If anything, it’s going to be even more important to have it now. Because having that many volunteers present for that one shift, is going to help with the demand that Houston Food Bank has – they’re going to triple their production, because they have a lot more people and agencies to serve after the storm. I’m still optimistic that it’s going to be important to have, whether we have two people show up or 2,000 people show up.

What made you decide to use HFB?

Well, I’ve been volunteering with the Food Bank since I was 16, and it was one of those places where I always had a consistent volunteer experience. Like I always felt, “this is fun to do and I know that I’m making a difference.” The staff has pretty much stayed the same over the years as well. They always gave me the impression that “We want people to have a good volunteer experience,” and we wanted that same spirit, too, when it came to The Hive Society.

Houston Food Bank is an important facility and it can hold a lot, a lot of people, regardless of whether it’s rain or shine. Like in the past, The Hive Society has scheduled park cleanups where we partnered with Scoremore. The first time we did a cleanup together, the weather was beautiful; but the second time, it was raining outside so not as many volunteers came out. But I like Houston Food Bank because they do good work, they do tangible work, and you can see what they’re doing. I’ve never had a bad experience here.

Everyone’s always like, “Will we ever do Houston CARES elsewhere?” And honestly, I don’t know, but I do know that Houston Food Bank can hold the most people out of any facility in Southeast Texas. I can’t see another community project that can hold as many people. So in a sense Houston CARES is The Hive Society and Houston Food Bank’s baby.

So I’ve personally done Houston CARES every year. But for somebody that’s NEVER been, why should they come out to Houston CARES?

Because they’re going to have fun! And there’s not many things you can do where you’re volunteering, you’re helping out and it feels like you’re going to have a good time. To me, the having fun is just as important is getting the work done.

We’re going to have DJ AudiTory there, it’s going to feel like a party. There’s going to be dancing and you’re going to get to meet new people and great people. It really is a sort of “come as you are” type experience. The Hive Society is composed of members that all have our own sort of, um, unconventional quirks *laughs*. We each have something that makes us unique and we’re not your typical non-profit. But I think that’s also what makes people want to come out and volunteer with us. You’re going to be working and partying and by the time it ends, you’re going to realize you actually did something that helps 150,000 people.

So if somebody asks you, “What else are are you doing on Saturday?” I mean, Netflix? But Netflix is going to be there. If you can be like, “Hey, I did something that helped to feed 150,000 people,” and it didn’t take very much out of you at all, then that means something.

But there’s also a project area for everything. Like, if you prefer to work with kids, there’s an area for that. If you want to do heavy lifting, there’s an area in the warehouse for that, too.

Do you have any project area or any one project that you especially like doing with the Houston Food Bank?

Yeah! My favorite project at Houston Food Bank is “Backpack Buddy.”

It’s what?

Backpack Buddy! *laughs* So what Backpack Buddy is, The Houston Food Bank fills backpacks with enough food to last a family for a weekend. And on Fridays, children who may not have access to food go home with backpacks filled with food or snacks to get them through the weekend. Because for a lot of kids, you have students who rely on those meals at school and when they go home on Friday, they might not get to eat again until that following Monday. So with Backpack Buddy, it’s one of those things where you understand it has a big impact.

Oh, and the room where it’s held is really big, and that’s where DJ AudiTory DJs. So there might be a line dance or two *laughs* but it’s just a really fun experience.

Does the Hive Society have any other big projects coming this year after Houston CARES? It might just be me, but it kind of feels like the Hive hasn’t been as active in 2017.

I think people don’t realize that this was a restructuring year for us as an organization. Like, we’re actually very small and we took on some really big projects. We knew that the work was doing was purposeful, but we took a look at other, larger non-profits who had access to far more resources than we did and yet they were doing WAY less than us. As we start getting donation letters and people’s donations start coming in, we’ll be able to do a lot more.

So, have we stepped back this year? Yes. But that’s just because we’re focusing on making the most of the limited resources that we have to make sure our two BIG projects that we do in a calendar year – Houston CARES & Adopt A Family – are able to get done to the best of our ability.

And Adopt A Family is your holiday project, right?

Yeah.

I know the Hive always posts pictures of the families they help after the fact. And it’s not like, “Oh, look at what we did” for the Gram, but it feels like it’s something you’re proud of.

And it’s always a very… personal project for all of us. Because we’re all very, very fortunate. I don’t believe in the idea that “somebody always has it worse than you,” but Adopt A Family definitely puts things into perspective for you. Like, we all struggle, but if we’re in a position where we can make it a little easier for them, then that means something. And we assess how many families can we help, based on the resources that we have at the end of the year. We’re very aware of making the most of what we get, for the families we do serve. And that really is how some of The Hive spends their holiday – like once the donations come in, and we get everything from the Amazon Wishlist, we bring everything to the families ourselves. Like, the toys, we wrap up the presents for the kids. It really is something that’s bigger than us.

I always tell people who are like, “Oh, you posted the pictures online?” But we almost always only post the kids and that’s because they want their picture taking. And I see the social media criticism but I always have issue with that. You see people who will post the work that they’re doing expecting a pat on the back. And in the position that we’re in, people don’t believe that you’re doing what you’re doing for a reason. But sometimes, people will come up to us and say, “Hey, I adopted a family this year because I saw you guys do it.”

The holidays, I know, are especially big for kids. Because they don’t necessarily see you struggling, they just know it’s the time of year when people get new things and they didn’t have anything to unwrap. So that’s where we step in, and we’re like, “How can we make your life just a little bit easier?”

A lot of Houstonians have stepped up and done clean up and other projects in the city in light of Harvey, but Houston CARES seems like it is going to be the first really big one.

I agree, but I’m hoping the people who show up keep that same energy. Everybody has stepped up and given of their time, and you know, there’s still going to be so much work for months. So I hope people aren’t burnt out from all the work and that they do have a positive experience.

One of the things that’s been associated with Houston CARES is also its giveaways. Like, last year was a big deal because you gave some volunteers free TiDAL trial memberships and like, shortly after, Beyonce dropped¬†Lemonade,¬†so y’all were clutch for that. Is the Hive Society giving something away this year too?

We are, actually. I like the idea of people being able to say, “You know, I gave of my time and not only did I help people, but I was able to walk away with something more, too.” So this year, we partnered with Scoremore again and we’ll have a few tickets to give away to a couple of sold-out shows here in Houston. Eventually, I’d like to be able to reach out to people like the Astros or the Texans and ask them if THEY can donate tickets to be given away.

But I’m very grateful that Scoremore contributed and, while I can’t say just YET whose concert tickets we’re giving away, trust that it’ll be worth it.

Any last words that you’d like to share with our readers about Houston CARES?

There’s actually a young lady coming this year, who told her mom she wanted to come to Houston CARES for her birthday. And that just blew my mind, because you know when I was her age, the last thing on mind was volunteering on my birthday. That reminded me that the work we do makes a difference, and who knows? She may grow up and want to do a CARES-like project of her own.

So everybody who shows up Saturday, is definitely singing “Happy Birthday” to her like they did for you?

Oh, definitely!

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