Groups see funding boost through scream park volunteering

Published 8:48 am Friday, December 13, 2019

NILES — Ann McOmber and Anne Virgil both refuse to walk through a Niles Scream Park attraction when it is open for spooking. So, they help scare others instead.

While they haunt the 855 Mayflower Road park in Niles, they raise money for the organizations they represent, too. McOmber represents Niles Vikings Band Boosters, and Virgil represents Fairland Christian Church, 1811 River Bluff St., Niles.

It is a business model Niles Scream Park has used since 1973. Someone can volunteer to collect tickets, guide cars, run booths or scare attendees within attractions. For each hour volunteered, Niles Scream Park will donate money to an organization that person wishes to represent.

This year, the park raised more than $116,000 for 70 organizations, civic groups and charities. Over 20,000 volunteer hours were logged by 535 people over 22 nights from early September to early November.

McOmber gave 73 hours of service over 18 nights to support Niles Viking Band Boosters, helping the group secure $7,850. It was the fourth-highest donation to a group of the season.

McOmber volunteered despite no longer having children in the band. Her son recently graduated, but McOmber was too moved by the boosters’ cause to give up her volunteerism. The boosters direct their volunteer money to fund band trips, such as visits to Disney World.

Not everyone can afford the price that comes along with the trip, so the boosters offer individuals a chance to raise money through volunteer hours. Students will volunteer to raise money for themselves, sometimes bringing family and friends.

“The more hours they can work, the more money that can be donated to her for her band trip,” McOmber said.

McOmber was the group leader for Niles Viking Band Boosters at Niles Scream Park. When she was not coordinating the boosters’ 35 volunteers to fill slots, she worked at themed attractions N’Awlins Nightmare and Deadwood, filling in for costumed scream inducers while they went on breaks.

While McOmber scared, Virgil, of Fairland Christian Church, was working the midway between attractions.

Virgil volunteered as a band booster herself when she first began at Niles Scream Park a few years back, raising money for her children’s bands. Now, she splits her donation with Fairland and with another church with her daughter and stepson.

Through Virgil and others, $1,355 was raised for Fairland.

Tom Gamble, a minister at Fairland, said the gift was “a blessing.” It will be used to fund children’s camping trips and build a playground.

The playground, which will be built on Fairland’s property, will make for a safe, fun place for children and a social environment for the parents watching over them, Gamble said.

Virgil said she was happy to see her volunteerism go to a strong cause. It keeps her coming back to Niles Scream Park each year.

The people she works with help, too.

“It’s like a family,” she said. “I don’t know how else to put it. You meet, and you just automatically connect with people.”

Virgil said she has met, conversed and befriended people she would normally would not have. Whether lawyers, physicians or fast food employees, whether grandparents, siblings or cousins, everyone gets along, she said, connected by the common desire to give.

Keeping a watchful eye over it all were Berrien County Sheriff’s Department reserve division members, volunteering 145 hours on 21 nights.

“It’s a tradition, and it’s also to ensure that the community and everybody has a safe experience as they participate in activities,” said Chief Deputy Robert Boyce, who oversees the voluntary reserve unit.

Niles Scream Park donated $2,448 to the group. The money will help fund new ballistic vests and other pieces of equipment that are not standard issue from the sheriff’s department.

Boyce said the reserve members do not volunteer for the donated money, however. Rather, they do it to interact with area families and ensure they have the best time possible.