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Good Turns | By Allison Williams

If food, music and fun are the heart of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, then an army of volunteers is the muscle. They arrive early and stay late. They direct traffic and take out the trash. And by definition they do it for free. “We truly are a community-produced event,” said Executive Director Carrie King. “Without the support, spirit and dedication of our volunteers, we simply could not produce this event.” Last year, more than 200 volunteers contributed 167 hours of their time.

One of the most dedicated is also one of the youngest. Ocie Stroud is a freshman at Cross Creek Early College. When he’s not in school, he can be found volunteering: helping out at the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, answering calls at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and pitching in wherever needed at nearly every downtown festival. He even parlayed a volunteer gig into a paying job, keeping score for rec league basketball games at the Walker-Spivey Recreation Center. But it’s safe to say Ocie had proved himself – the job came after seven years of Saturdays volunteering for the city parks and recreation department.

And the rec center is where we caught up with Ocie on a recent chilly Saturday morning when many kids his age would rather sleep in. Sneakers squeaked on the court as parents and grandparents cheered from the bleachers. Ocie had the best seat in the house, center court, and it was his job to keep track of points, fouls, free throws and all of the other statistics the coaches would want later. This was one of Ocie’s very first volunteer jobs – he was 9 – and he hasn’t stopped since. He spends a majority of his summer vacations working as a volunteer police dispatcher at the VA hospital on Ramsey Street. “Some people say it’s too much,” Ocie said. But not him.

Out of all his volunteer jobs, the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival is one of his favorites. Last year, King trusted Ocie enough to promote him to the head of the green team, the team responsible for recycling. Other teams are responsible for safety, assisting vendors, helping children and their parents at the KidStuff attraction and handing out hundreds of maps and event guides. “He tells me all the time, ‘I’m going to take your job,’” King said. She responded by giving Ocie a tongue-in-cheek title: interim executive director. But King is serious when she says Ocie is an example of a dedicated effort to foster future leaders for not only the Dogwood Festival but other events and non-profit organizations. “It’s our hope that we are planting a seed,” she said, “by encouraging a younger generation of volunteers to become involved in our community.”

Leslie Cross is volunteer and membership coordinator for the Arts Council. In a place where 85 to 90 percent of volunteers are women, Ocie stands out. Cross says he is one of her most reliable volunteers. She even made an exception by allowing him to volunteer at age 15, one year younger than the minimum age required. “He has done every position, from signing in volunteers at the International Folk Festival to helping with the stages, helping break down,” Cross said. “He’s always one of the last volunteers to leave. I don’t know if this is the right word for a boy, but he’s bubbly. I don’t think he wants to be called bubbly. But he is a little cutie pie and a good sport. He thinks on his own. If he sees a hole he plugs it.” Volunteers are still needed for this year’s Dogwood Festival. For more information, visit faydogwoodfestival.com.