Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP

Certified Special Events Professional

Event Management Authority

Like angels and elephants dancing on the head of a pin, our dreams and responsibilities may have no limits, but must be balanced according to the music of the moment.

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Volunteers

04 November 2006

 

Volunteers are people who give their time and talents to work on an event without financial compensation and they are an important human resource for many public and private events. The reasons people volunteer are as varied as there are events, but these reasons often fall into the categories of personal connections to the event or event participants, wishing to support or make a contribution to a worthwhile cause, seeking camaraderie with fellow volunteers, or seeking access to the event action and activities — and often a combination of these motivations. It is vitally important to treat these human assets with respect and consideration for their needs, including scheduling them appropriately, providing proper training, being generous with recognition, and being very careful not to over-burden or abandon them.

 

Consider the following Event Log provided by Mark N. Jordan, Managing Director of Practical Communications Group.

 

Event Log - November 1, 2006
Dear Event Log — This is an exciting day. Long a devoted follower of college soccer, I truly had an inspired idea when I discovered the athletic conference’s men's soccer championships in a nearby town was looking for volunteers to help out during the tournament. It was perfect. I know events, I love soccer, I can learn the behind-the-scenes stuff, and I can watch the games for free. I am a genius sometimes...

HOUR 1 — Wow...there aren't many volunteers. Wonder why. Ah well, not to worry. It's a gorgeous day, 5 of the top 10 teams in the country will play today and life is wonderful. My job is Parking. All I have to do is stand here for a bit and wave this flag around, and then I'm sure they'll let me go watch the games. I mean, after all, at the far end of the parking lot is my counterpart, a paid event staff employee, who stops all the cars first and divvies them up into VIP and General Parking — all I have to do is wave the flag at them while they turn happily into my end of the lot. I think they must have made a mistake — I'm really a greeter — these cars could park themselves.

HOUR 2 — The sun is shining; a cool breeze is coming in off the small lake across the way from me. This is so beautiful. It's so nice, in fact, that some people have ignored me and continued to speed around to the other side of the lake and park in that lot, where we have nobody. I guess they want the exercise. With the looks they're giving me as they cross the road, I guess they're just a wee bit jealous of my beautiful, lemon-colored event jersey.

HOUR 3 — Did I say the sun was shining? Hey... it's getting a little warm. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the event director's warning to dress in layers too seriously. But I can't shed anything because I'm wearing my team jersey underneath, for when I go to watch the games, but I can't appear partisan here. And I can't shed the event jersey because then nobody will know I have this cool job and am "in-the-know" about the tournament. I've had a few cars, but the first game of four is just getting underway, and I'm sure things will get busy later, long after I'm gone. People on this road are kind of rude. Many are just passing by to go to some other area of this huge sports park, like the pool or golf range. They whiz by so fast; my flag almost gets sucked out of my hand by the draft of the passing vehicle. There are some big rocks placed all about me — if I'm not careful, I could get trapped and maybe even get my flag caught in a car window.

HOUR 4 — OK, this was weird. One car slowed down and the guy leaned across the seat and asked if he really had to park over by the lake. I smiled and said, "No, you can park right here — unless you want the exercise." He snarled at me and said of course he didn't, so why is the other guy back there telling people to park over by the lake. I laugh, thinking the poor man deranged, and note that we are hired as parking attendants, not great communicators. That seems to make him happy, and he parks his car in my lot. I mean after all, the paid event guy wouldn't have his information so wrong, right? I'd go double-check, but I don't have a radio, and it's too far to leave my position. When the boss comes by, I'll cover my butt and mention it to him. Speaking of him, I haven't seen him since he sent me down here — wonder when he's coming to let me go watch the games — I think the first one may be nearly over. And my legs are starting to hurt.

HOUR 5 — Wow, it's really hot. Dodging all these cars that start to speed by and then make fast turns into my lot when I wave my flag is starting to take its toll. My legs really hurt now. I've started going bald, and it's just occurred to me — can you have sunburn on the top of your head? I'm sweating so much I've lost the beaming yellow-ness of my event jersey, looking much more now like a wilted, shriveled lemon caught in the corner of an old fruit display shelf. I think my back is trying to communicate with me too, but I don't want to listen. Missed the first game, and the second is underway. The odd car or two still seems to want to park on the other side of the lake, and people are shouting things as they cross the road, but much of my hearing is gone from the buffeting of the wind made by the cars screaming past going to the pool or archery ranges. Wonder where the boss is. If he had a heart attack, would someone know I'm down here?

HOUR 6 — Some fans who are leaving after the second game stop and ask me if I ever get a break. Funny, I was wondering the same thing. Or I think I thought that at some point. I keep having this recurring dream of wandering down to the lake there and falling on my belly, face thrust into the cool, refreshing water. But I know better. People who come to walk their dogs all let them do their business in that lake. But I'm so thirsty and tired. One blessing. My legs went numb a little while ago, although they hurt a lot when I make sudden moves, like lurching away from cars, most of whom have taken on a malevolence in appearance I don't like one bit. Had the stray thought that it might serve my boss right if he's had a heart attack somewhere. Third game will start soon, and I don't even really care anymore. That sunburn thing, about the top of my head, what a silly thought when I have much pressing and urgent concerns like my brain liquefying inside the pulsating convection oven that my skull has become. I've stopped sweating. Should I be scared? Or is that just something you look for in overheated dogs. I feel like a dog. Wow, free association. I could never do that before, I always thought about my answers, even for a split second. I miss my mother.

HOUR 7 — OK, this is really bad. I had shuffled over to one car, flag hanging limply by my side, and mumble yet again, "of course you can park here." They yelled at me about the other flag guy, and also asked why the sign over there said VIP and Reserved Parking for my lot. I hadn't seen that. I shrugged my one remaining working shoulder, and said "Dunno." I think I may have said that we had reserved the lot for them, but I may have just imagined that. What a stupid sign. I was told to have everyone park in here so why call it reserved? Just then, a roar followed by a high-pitched squeal blasted my ear — a tour bus had swung out too far from the lot exit and was coming perilously close to me. I tried to stagger out of the way, but my legs are still reading the sign. Then my foot hits one of those rocks and my body starts to fall, turning at the same time. My last act was to flag that bus to go right… I think... but I may have been trying to throw it at him, and my fingers just wouldn't open. I hit the dirt on my face and I lay there. I could hear my manager and my trainer screaming, "Stay down, kid, STAY DOWN!!" But I refuse to lose this fight. Besides, I don't have a manager OR trainer, so there's some weird stuff going on in this dirt here. I pull myself halfway up and watch the bus driving away toward the bus parking. I've done well. Just then, the boss pulls up in his little truck and says, "I think you need a break. IF YOU PROMISE to come back, you can have 15-30 minutes. I love him for this. A great man, truly. Or is this the Helsinki Syndrome? I sort of ponder that as I shuffle off to the field and concession stand that appear to be miles away.

HOUR 8 — It's amazing what a bit of food and water can do. With a clearer head, I plot my escape, and then decide I have to honor my commitment. I have to say that it helped to see the other volunteers looking as miserable as I felt. So resolutely I head back. A triumph of the human spirit... or too much of a wimp to leave.

HOURS 9, 10 — Somehow, with darkness falling, I have become a dynamo as people pour into and out of the lot — managing the buses, the cars, the speeders heading to the pool, player's moms looking to leave brownies for the team, revelers who cruelly, but sincerely, offer cold beer. My flag cracks through the night as it crisply directs vehicles hither and fro. I am fully on automatic, but I am also dimly aware that time is running out — that fatigue will not be denied for long.

HOUR 11 — The boss comes again, gives me a look of admiration and says, "You did alright, kid." Or maybe it was "You feel alright, Sid?" He doesn't know my name, but I'm grateful for him trying. I think maybe I'd like Helsinki. He says I'm done, and I can go watch the remains of the last game if I'd like. I don't even know who's playing anymore, or what sport it is. Like a man condemned to death, I crawl back to the field, watch until halftime, and then resolve to drive home. I want to stop at the staff restroom in the building first even though I'm pretty sure I have no fluid in my body anywhere. When I get there, I find two 5-foot staffers, both older women, trying to fight off a group of about 10 irate fans wanting to use the restrooms reserved for people with credentials, rather than trudge the quarter-mile to the porta-potties which have been in the sun all day. I feel for them, can't feel my own legs, and want to go in the restroom, but they're blocking it, so I shout, "Is there a problem here?" They turn, and there must be something in my face, or maybe I said it in the tone my mom used to use, I don't know, but they mutter "No problem" and dissipate. Shrugging off the gratitude of my co-workers, I fall through the restroom door and lean up against the cool, slick wall of my urinal. Which is where I realize suddenly that I am standing next to my idol, the coach of my favorite soccer team. In the flesh. And I look like Night of the Living Dead. All the things I ever wanted to discuss with him have long since fled my brain. All I can whisper is "Go Team!" Noting just the faintest hint of alarm in his eyes, I hear him chuckle and say, "I am, I am." I realize what he thinks I meant, and I find the strength to clarify it, blaming fatigue. We have a nice conversation as we wash up, so the day hasn't been a total loss.

HOUR 12 — As I head out the building, the Assistant Event Director grabs me and says, "Wow, you really helped those folks out at the restroom." Saying it was nothing, because it was, he ignores that and says, "You did so well, do you think you could stand guard at the door of the building? Just keep everyone out except credentialed people. I don't have the strength to say "No"… I nod "Yes" and there I finish my evening.

Event Log - November 2, 2006

I don't know how I made the 2 1/2 hour drive home last night, but I was glad to see the car in the driveway today. Dearest Event Log, if I ever have another idea like this one, please slam your covers on my fingers and set me straight, OK?

 

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