They won hearts, not medals.
They are the volunteers of the 2012 World Choir Games.
Thirty-five hundred strong and coming from 13 states, as well as India, China and Puerto Rico, they will have donated more than 63,000 hours of their time as Saturday’s Closing Ceremony marks the conclusion of the 11-day event that brought the world to Cincinnati.
Each volunteer pledged to work a minimum of three, six-hour shifts. Many worked that many hours in a single day. Then, they happily came back for more the next morning.
These generous people – including 3,450 from the Tristate – gave more than their time. They put their hearts into helping strangers. They made it their mission to make these visitors feel welcome in the foreign land Cincinnatians know as home. Mission accomplished.
The Games’ volunteers have cooled ticket-holders’ tempers in record-setting heat. They have given school-age singers from around the world their first taste of Cincinnati chili. They have tracked down a triangle to win a gold medal.
One volunteer even got a gold medal. The choir he guided – the group he came to call, “my choir,” as guides did when they fell in love with their singers – gave him the gold. That was the members’ way of thanking him for letting them rub his belly before every performance for good luck.
Games' God-grandmother: Mom to Nick & Drew
Cate Fopma Reinert literally helped give birth to the 2012 World Choir Games. She is the mother of Nick Lachey.
The entertainer led Team Cincinnati to victory in 2007’s “Clash of the Choirs” competition. That TV show and Cincinnati’s support of it caught the attention of the World Choir Games’ organizers. The sing-off showed that America is choir crazy. That vocal insanity persuaded organizers that they could bring the Games to America for the first time in the singing olympics’ 12-year history. When they picked the Queen City for the Games’ American debut, Lachey earned the right to be called the Cincinnati Games’ godfather.
If he’s the godfather, then his petite mom, “I say I’m 5 feet tall, but I exaggerate,” is the Games' god-grandmother.
“I’ll take all the titles I can get,” she said with a laugh as she fiddled with a faulty two-way radio. “This thing is working like me, not too well, after only four hours sleep a night for the last week.”
She stood in the main hallway of the School for Creative & Performing Arts. She knows the hallway well. And not because she has been stationed at the Over-the-Rhine school since the Games began as an event services manager directing traffic. Wayward choirs and over-heated audience members have heeded her hand signals, the kind commonly seen on airport runways.
“This school has done so much for my sons, Drew and Nick, and so much for the city, volunteering is my way of giving back,” said the Mount Airy mom who took time off from her full-time job as a social services administrator to volunteer for the Games. “I know every corner of this school.”
She turned one of those corners, opened an unmarked door and showed off the two gold certificates that the school’s ensembles, Meridian 8 and the SCPA Chorale, won at the Games. Taking home the gold makes them eligible to leave town to compete at the next World Choir Games in 2014 in Riga, Latvia.
“Getting there is going to cost money,” Reinert said. “We’re already raising funds.”
“Always a volunteer,” she said, calling over her shoulder and scampering down another hallway.
Reinert‘s thorough knowledge of the building helped when she had to zip from one end of the school to another to calm ticket-holders sizzling from the weather and the long lines.
“The Games organizers told us no one comes to the competitions,” she noted. “They also thought the Games would never happen in America.”
She knows they were wrong on both counts.
“Cincinnatians packed this place for every competition,” she said. “We had to run video feeds into the other theater for the overflow crowds. This city has showed the world Cincinnati is a great place to live.”
Reinert managed to make “almost everyone happy who had a ticket problem. Only one guy got mad. He apologized later. Like a good Cincinnatian.”
She got very good at making things right. Anyone with a beef was directed to “the short woman with the dark hair.”
Now she has another nickname, the Games’ god-grandmother.