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Respect For Volunteers Goes A Long Way

By Gregory Donhardt

When I was in my early twenties I volunteered with one of the biggest performing arts organisations for youth in Australia, the National Rock Eisteddfod Challenge. This national event brought together schools from all over the country to present themed dance pieces in large arena’s around Australia to packed houses, judges, and a national television audience. In the larger states, it was a week-long event, whilst in some of the smaller regional centres, it was for one night only.

I was young, wanted to get my feet wet, and live my dream of working on one of the largest performing arts events in Australia. It was something I had only ever dreamed of, so I applied to volunteer my time as an event volunteer on both the Melbourne and Adelaide events.

As a member of a team of around eight volunteers, I got my first taste of the performing arts industry. I got my foot in the door and found where I knew I wanted to be.

It was here where I met Belinda Sparks and Anna Robb. Two of the nicest and down-to-earth people I’ve met and who I consider to be the two people who helped me drive my passion for this industry. If it wasn’t for what they showed us and the way they treated us, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

Most of us were young and inexperienced, but that didn’t matter to Anna and Belinda. They could have given us the most menial of tasks, keeping us out of harm’s way and away from the action. Instead, they embraced us, they gave us radios, gave us access to all areas, and more importantly gave us the chance to experience the fun side. We got to be side of stage, we got to see Anna and her professional team at work. We got to be a part of the team doing those “professional” jobs under supervision. We also helped out with the more mundane jobs, but we were happy to, as we’d been given the opportunity to do all the fun stuff as well. We kept coming back for more. What I think we all appreciated was the fact that they treated us as one of the team, we were all treated equally and we weren’t the kind of volunteer kids that got sent home at the end of the night and dreaded that they would return tomorrow.

For me, this was the best volunteer experience I have ever had in my life. The wealth of knowledge and experience that I gained from this experience outweighed the personal cost of AUD $1000 to travel to the Melbourne event. To this day, it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m still friends with three of the eight volunteers and they have all gone on to work in the performing arts and events industries in varying fields. One of them went on to work as a stage manager for Rock Eisteddfod Challenge, many years after.

I must have made a lasting impression as a few years later I had the joy of working with Anna again when she asked me to work as a professional stage manager on a large performing arts project in Sydney. Fortunately, I had just moved to Sydney for my wife’s work, so I jumped at the chance, another foot in the door, and to this day, some 10 years later, I still freelance with the same company.

Many years have passed since my Rock Eisteddfod experience. I now manage a performing arts centre at a school in Adelaide as well as freelancing as a creative technical producer around Australia.

I’ve seen some absolutely appalling treatment of volunteers, especially on some of the larger events and it is devastating to watch.

We need to keep this industry thriving and many times it’s our volunteers which allow us to do this. If we don’t treat them with respect, coach them, and keep them interested in the industry then eventually their desire to serve will dwindle away

I’m constantly required to work with volunteers or students and one thing will always ring true. I will show them the respect they deserve, the way Anna and Belinda gave me the respect that they did all those many years ago.

Next time you’re in the position to work with a volunteer or a student, I urge you to show them respect, treat them how you would like to be treated, and let them share in the fun times that this industry can bring. You would be surprised how much of a difference it can make.

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