Saturday, February 27, 2010

Things I Learnt as a Volunteer

Today I finished my last smurf shift. In case you've been avoiding any Olympic news these past few weeks, a smurf is a Vancouver Olympic 2010 volunteers in the turquoise blue jackets (You see them everywhere). Some of the volunteers starting calling themselves smurfs and the name stuck.

So I know little to nothing about curling, but I learnt a little spending 10 of my 12 volunteer’s shifts as an Event Services Team Leader at the Vancouver Olympic Centre - the curling rink (the other 2 shifts I did at BC Place for the Dress Rehearsal and Opening Ceremonies). On each of my shifts I had a team of 4-10 volunteers’ hosts who held all sorts of positions like marshals, ushers, ticket scanners, access monitors, etc. Generally we dealt with the public to ensure they got where they needed to go as quickly and as easily a possible.

I learnt a few interesting things from my experience and I thought I'd share them....

1. Hydration is a double edged sword - you need to drink, but that means you have to pee... usually when you have several thousand people standing in front of you at the security gate. Lesson: time you’re drinking carefully.

2. I did two shifts at BC Place for the Opening Ceremonies. It rained. I was outside. Lesson: My running shoes aren't waterproof.

3. Your job is to help run the event. Lesson: PVR it and watch it when you get home!

4. As volunteers we are happy to provide feedback to our supervisors about something that is not working as it should, or if someone has a particular grievance. But when someone doesn't like that particular "rule" (that the volunteer didn't create, but has been asked to enforce) and starts yelling at you don't take it personally... it only proves they are the ass. Lesson: be nice to volunteers.

5. It is raining on us too! And we've probably been standing in it longer. Lesson: Consider the other guy's POV.

6. Wearing your radio on your belt might feel like you've become a Grade 10 AV club geek, but it far better on your back, shoulders and jacket. Lesson: Learn this lesson before Day 5

7. I was so proud of learning how to pee without taking off my radio, backpack or jacket. Until I realized #6 and had to move the radio to my belt. Thankfully the bathroom floor was dry when I dropped my radio (actually I should be thankful I only dropped it on the floor). Lesson: hook radio on stall door not smurf vest.

8. Everyone gets excited about getting their picture taken with Quatchi. Lesson: There is a kid in all of us.

9. When they warned you not to forget your accreditation because it will be pain they didn't lie. Lesson: Don't forget your accreditation.

10. Don't get too cocky if you don't get selected for a random security check for a few days in a row. As you WILL get "blue" four times in a row on the day you have volunteers working the security gates and you are in a hurry. Lesson: Taking off your radio, backpack, accreditation and jacket is a pain and the wire in my bra makes the machine beep.

11. The day you are supposed to ensure the bathrooms are secured and locked outside the spectator area 30 minutes before the game ends, the game will end suddenly while half your volunteer team is still on lunch and you will be stuck trying to lock bathrooms with a large crowd proceeding at you full speed ahead. Lesson: There is a cop there when you need help.

12. My body feels like it has just finished a swing dance camp. Except at swing dance camp I'm up dancing until 4am, and not getting up at 4am. Lesson: Start taking Ibuprofen on day 1.

13. If people show up 20 minutes before an event it is likely a lot of other people thought they could do the same thing... so there will be a line up for security and they will miss the beginning. Lesson: It isn't the volunteer's fault that you didn't plan better - get there earlier.

14. Getting into a uniform everyday makes it easy to get dressed everyday, especially at 4am. Lesson: See my fashion blog for discussion on merits/challenges of uniforms.

15. We had lots of training, but really until you do the job you know nothing. And the first day you do ANY post it is ALL new. Lesson: Fake it until you make it.

16. Volunteers love snacks! Lesson: You can buy the adoration of your volunteers by bringing them cookies, snacks and candy!

17. You will forget at least one volunteer host on a particular post for too long. Lesson: Remember you are also a volunteering trying your best and get over it... if that doesn't work try candy.

18. The Olympic EVS Team Leader Diet of 8 hours of walking supported by cookies, sandwiches and soup works. It may not last but my clothes fit great! Lesson: I won't be eating any sandwiches for a few weeks.

19. You WILL run into someone you know, usually as you are loudly explaining the "express" lanes to a large number of people.  They will recognize you in your smurf uniform. And it will likely be a former boss or boyfriend. Lesson: Laugh and tell them how much fun you are having.

20. Things aren't always named accurately. Lesson: "Express" isn't necessarily faster.

21. The Madonna headset on your radio will mess up your hair. Lesson: Get over it.

22. Life goes on while you are at the rink. Lesson: Return library books and pay bills before Olympics.

23. With the exception of cold, wet, late people at security EVERYONE in Vancouver was nice for 2 weeks. Lesson: Keep it up.

24. My 2.5 year old will say to Daddy every morning "Mommy no go volunteer Olympics. no go work, come home". It makes my heart break. Lesson: My husband rocks for watching a very active toddler while I volunteered!

25. Volunteers, supervisors and event management at Canadian Olympic Centre are AWESOME. I had an opportunity to work with some truly fun, unique and smart people from all across country (and the world). Each brought their own unique talents to the role. And anyone who can be friendly and still smiling after 8-9 hours standing on concrete (sometimes in the rain) is one hell of an awesome person!!! Lesson: Never judge a book by its cover.

I did have tickets to a couple of events to watch Canada win gold (Free Dance and Women's Hockey). And I did get to stop by one or two of the free Olympic events on my day off. But in general my Olympic experience was different than many others and in some ways I felt disconnected to the actual games as I was 'back of house' helping things run smoothly. But I wouldn't trade the experiences or the people I met for anything.

Now bring on the Paralympics!!!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an amazing experience, for sure. It is one that very few people have, I'm glad you enjoyed it!