Monday, April 25, 2011

What do volunteers do?

I got yet another request for help with the spring show, this time trying to outline just what you will be doing as a volunteer. I haven't followed her link yet, I probably should as I have every intention of being there. It just boggles me that people will be involved in the skating program to some degree and yet not give their time to help out with the shows. That's supposed to be a big bonus, right? Being in the show?

In any organization like this, parent volunteers end up being a critical players. Shunned, ignored, largely muted and thankless players, but players nonetheless. If you decide to volunteer, (which you should) do not expect a plaque or party afterwards. Just take comfort and pride in the fact you did your good deed for the year and smile. Just show up, offer to help, and go in the direction you're pointed.

What you will NOT do is; Be in Charge to any Degree. Sorry, someone else has that role, for better or for worse, and even if you vehemently disagree, you just have to smile and grit your teeth. Choreograph anything. Sorry. As a parent you are inherently biased to your own, so you cannot provide an objective and fair eye that will give every child a moment. (Read my endless whining about Winter Show for an example.)  You will not decide on costumes, music, lighting, effects, blocking, rehearsal times, who is coaching your kid, and how your kid performs. Any and all interference from you will be sniffed out and negated. (We had an angel at one point who told us her mom had given her orders to upstage Gabriel. Considering this kid was twice the size of the other angels, we nixed that and warned off mom. For 42nd Street another kid was told by mom to "just go to the center" and ignore the blocking. Faced with the threat of being kicked from the show, kid wisely ignored mom.) Just go with the flow, smile, help out and have some wine when it's done. It's okay. (Repeat this endlessly.)

During Winter Show, I noticed that there were two places where volunteers were missing yet needed the most. One big spot was ID Checker. The other was in the Dressing Rooms. I found myself wanting a stunt double just to help out in there, even though the sight of a dodgeball now puts my eye in a twitch. Beyond the high profile costuming job, the up-top-and-out-of-the-way perch of spotlight, the smiling ticket taker and usher, the "get it done early" gig of painting the sets, there is the rock bottom, down and dirty work of Dressing Room Monitor and ID Checker at the entries to the Dressing Rooms.

Folks, these jobs are critical. Beyond critical. They are vital to the safety and well-being of the reason the show is happening at all; the performers. The kids.

When I was in the dressing room, there were two kinds of parents. The first kind were the ones who loitered in the rooms for no other visible reason than to ensure that their own children were safe from the common rabble. Nutso (remember her?) was chronic at this. When she arrived, she expected her children's costumes laid out and ready, their marked spaces clean. During the show she sat with her own kids and only a few times spoke to other children, usually to warn them away from her own, lest her children mess up their costumes or makeup. At the end of the evening, she departed in a flurry of Coke cans and candy wrappers, leaving her kid's costumes in a pile. Another set of parents brought pizza for their own crew, so the other kids circled them like a pack of wolves at bay. This was just cruel, and of course they left pizza mess in their wake. Of course, the alternative to Nutso and other HawkMoms was the Parental Disappearing Act, where parents would arrive, dump their kids with a bag of snacks and/or stuff and leave the monitor with a kid who has no idea how to tie a shoe, much less a skate.

Dressing Room Monitors need to be aware of just how important they are. They need to be called before the performers, handed a sewing kit, basic first aid pack, pack of tissues, an intimidating ID badge and a flask of Jameson. Dressing Room monitors will be putting little uncoordinated kids in sometimes difficult costumes, often with the "help" of mom, grandma, Coach and possibly a sibling. The child may or may not be crying. They will be resewing buttons, maribou and sequins. They will be applying and tying skates and making sure blade guards are labeled and kept up with. When the blade guards get lost, they will be drying tears and consoling parents about the irreplaceable loss. (Sarcasm.) They will keep kids occupied, safe and contained while the kids wait to go on. (I brought a bunch of games.) They will be listening for the call of Coaches, lining up the kids, and wishing kids well as they go to perform. When the kids come back, they will be checking costumes and kids for damage and reapplying blade guards. At the end of the evening, they will help kids and parents put away costumes; this means back in the dress bag and re-hung or laid over the assigned chair. (Stress to children the importance of neatness and order.) Pick up trash and toys, reorganize the room for the next sucker the following night, and go home to a drink. This is important work, no joke. A bad dressing room experience can sour a family forever on a show. 

The other critical role that I saw ignored was ID Checker at Dressing Room doors. I was never asked for my ID badge. Never. This kind of frightened me, because if I was getting through to where the kids were being stashed, who else was? Don't assume that just because it's a family rink and we all tend to know each other, that everything is safe. While I was running spot I saw two folks who were "sketchy" in my book; Alone, never seen them before, kinda funny looking and didn't speak to anyone. Had they been taking pictures, I would have politely asked which kids were theirs, ya know? If I could breeze by the ID Checker talking on her cell phone, could they? Yes, I know Gramma, Grandpa, Auntie June, Uncle Ernie, Brother James and Sister Jane all want to go see Muffy in the dressing room to bring her flowers. But Muffy is sharing a dressing area with dozens of other little girls who will collectively freak out if they are seen in their panties, and we don't want that. Have all the relations wait in the lobby so Muffy can come to them for flowers. It just works better that way. I don't care if Grampa is loudly threatening to call his lawyer, for the sake of the other children, don't let him pass! (Besides. it's a bit of a power trip!)

What if Muffy tries to leave the Dressing Area on her own, without an adult? Ah, then it's you, Trusty ID Checker to turn her right around and send her back. I don't care how much she whines that she has a dollar for a candy bar or hates the taste of the water fountain in that other hallway, send her froufy little butt back in there! When mom comes looking frantically for Muffy with an Angry Dad and Frazzled Coach, you can easily point to her dressing area and rest easy. Another child, safe and sound for another performance.

With the number of kids in that show, I would imagine that every parent could volunteer only once and there would be an overflow of free labor. But the emails are telling me otherwise. I was a Scout, so volunteering has been beaten into my brain pretty much from day one. I can't sit next to a candy wrapper for more than five minutes before I get the urge to throw it away. Yes, it's dirty and gross. Someone else left it there, and I'm sure he's a jerk. No one may notice at all and I may not get a thank you, but I left the rink that much better than how I found it and that's a good day.

Sign up. At the very least, you'll come away with a hella good story. Just ask me about the time that kid spit on the floor.


  1. There's no chance of enforcing the rules you think should be the rules.

    - ID checker - I don't think there was intended to be one at the Winter Show I volunteered for. Are you really going to try and stop parents, who were not given an ID, from seeing their own children? Particularly since many of these kids are too young to sit through an entire show and need to be picked up and taken home early. There should be IDs for the pros though. By the way, fear of the creepy stranger is irrational - the people most likely to harm a child are their own parents.

    -Keeping kids in the dressing room. Good idea, but the bathrooms have an exit into the hallway that you can't see from the dressing room.

    Only bring games that are indestructible.

    Don't be the "volunteer" I saw who arrived and left at random times, and lounged in the corner like a slug with an MP3 player in between.

    Other fun things:
    Pro removes own child from dressing room, sets terrible example.
    Kid's skate blade is falling off.
    Girl keeps kissing all the other kids. Au pair comes and puts more lipstick on her.
    Parents who decide to dress their daughter in the boy's dressing area (not that the two areas are really separate).
    Parents who keep the whole family at the rink between shows then they were explicitly told to leave, tying up volunteers who can't leave them unattended.
    Parents who leave their kid who can't skate and isn't in the show in the dressing room, with dodge ball, for the duration of the show.

    Consider a show with no lasting injuries to be a successful show.

    Can't volunteer this time since I'm performing.


  2. And one more thing: Rink repeatedly ignores your offers to volunteer.

  3. Ideally, small children without parents would have someone take them to the bathroom and back. Bigger kids should be able to handle themselves. But I know the trouble spot to which you're referring and there needed to be a Checker there.

    As a parent, I would be thrilled if I were prevented from getting my kid and I had no ID. This tells me security is tight and my kid is safe. To my knowledge, every family was issued an ID Badge allowing one parent access to the dressing area. Statistically speaking, yes, random stranger poses little threat to random kids. However, maternally speaking, the "I don't need much excuse to go apeshit on your ass" speaking, the caution around creepy people stands.

  4. I thought the handouts said the parent badges were for tot parents only. You got a volunteer badge because you were a volunteer. I didn't see a single parent badge.

  5. I was the locker room mom for 2 shows at our local rink last Spring. I signed up for one, but ended up doing and additional show by default as the mom who had signed up didn't show up, and I wasn't about to leave my then-4 year old unsupervised back there. It was not an overall pleasant experience due primarily to 1-2 REALLY difficult to deal with kids (the rest were totally fine), but you're right, I felt good to have made my contribution. Will do the same this year!

  6. You get volunteers? We have to scrounge around and usually end up using 3 or 4 parents, the skating club board and our older skaters. Wow, what I would give for volunteers! I agree though, they do need to know what to do and there should be some clear cut guidelines about it. Security is a must! These are kids we are dealing with.

  7. AMS, my point is this: In any situation with minors, there needs to be vigilant presence of adults who ensure that no kid wanders off alone nor gets taken away by the wrong person. In every school or daycare situation Stitch has been in, there is a specified list of people authorized to take Stitch. Not on the list? Too bad. At his preschool, I was sometimes asked to show my DL even though the people knew me by sight and name. It was procedure.

    Anon, good on you for stepping up. I personally think there should be a post-show volunteer party with an open bar and taxi service home. And crab rangoon. Possibly a band.

    Sportsmom, this could solve your volunteer problems, too... think about it. A U2 cover band? Who wouldn't go??

  8. I run the volunteer program being trashed here, and I've been trying to write a response. But frankly I'm speechless. The one thing I really must say is Anon, NO ONE has been "refusing your offers to volunteer" That's just a lie. Feel free to go here and sign up:, or fill out a form and leave it at the office. I'll put you in charge of the tots.

  9. This isn't a trashing. It's the two (and only two) points where I saw problems. I can fully understand why it's hard to get people in the dressing rooms, because it's a hard job. I can see why it's hard to get people to vigilantly check ID's, because when it's not boring you catch flak. Just because you run the program doesn't mean you can oversee all your volunteers at every moment, and I understand that. But like it or not, there were kids in the dressing rooms who were dumped there for the free babysitting. (Not even in the show.) Even Dad commented concern when he walked past people who were supposed to be asking for ID. Again, if I had a dozen clones, I'd send them to do these jobs.

    If I'm speaking up about problem areas, it isn't because I hate things. I speak up precisely because I care.