Will Ahern, 2018 Volunteer of the Year
Will Ahern came to CHF shortly after he and his wife, Beth, adopted their daughter, Summer, from China. He felt instinctively that Summer should grow up with her Chinese heritage ever present in her life. He started volunteering for us, Dragon Festival and China Insight within a short period of each other and has stayed with all three organizations ever since. His contributions to all three have been substantial, as have been his contributions to Summer’s ease with her own identity.
At our Foundation, Will is our go-to techie and the mastermind behind all our digital capabilities. In all our ventures together, Will has always been prompt, courteous, cheerful, patient, and accommodating. He is the super-administrator of our website, guiding us through migrating from various hosts and platforms as these availabilities came and went. He patiently taught us how to rebuild our website when that became necessary, and he figured out how to accomplish the tedious task of moving our 3,000-plus photos in the process. This is very important to us: our photos constitute the single most visited section of our website: there have been to date close to 700,000 hits for our 3,200 photos.
Will encourages us to use technology whenever he sees an opportunity: we have used PayPal for registrations and ticket reservations, Mailchimp and Google Docs for communicating with our members or among ourselves, SignUp Genius for signing up volunteers… And the list goes on.
Will is always eager to test drive new technologies, and on more than one occasion during our 8-year-run of A Passage to China at the Mall of America, he pushed Mall officials to update their technologies. Strange as it may sound now, but when we started Passage at the MOA in 2009, there was no wifi in the Rotunda. Every year Will prodded them to invest and improve, showing them new possibilities in speed and connectivity. Finally in 2014, MOA technology caught up with the times. Will was finally able to tape cultural performances in Sears Court and transmit them to the video wall in the Rotunda, and to YouTube, very close to real time.
Will often brought his then young daughter, Summer, along during Passage. Summer was not even 10 when she produced her first presentation on the video wall in the Rotunda. It was a presentation on Chinese fashions, soon followed by one on Chinese regional foods. Summer also started volunteering at activities tables and, in the blink of an eye, was recruiting her friends to join her as volunteer videographers. We all marveled at the father-daughter tag team, and watching them has inspired us to develop a formal young volunteers program. And of course, Summer became the first one to graduate from our program.
Summer is in college now, but Will is still with us, still patient with those of us who are technophobes. He is our role model not only as an ideal volunteer, but also as an exemplary Chinese father.