2019 BWIPS Volunteering

As I mentioned in my last post, this was my first time as pen show volunteer staff. It’s an experience I look forward to repeating many times in the future.

When Corinne, the show organizer, put out a call to the DC Pen Crew for volunteers, I eagerly signed up. My reasoning, beyond wanting to help out, was that if I was volunteering, I wouldn’t be spending money.

That theory worked out well. When I received the schedule, I was happy to see myself listed for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. That shift schedule worked so well that I’m hoping for the same next year.

The Shifts

When I came “on shift” on Saturday, I did my best to introduce myself to each vendor. I had to skip over a few that were very busy with customers. I explained, to those who looked confused, the purpose of the volunteers (getting answers, allowing breaks, etc.). I found myself booth sitting a lot on that first round as people ran to the bathroom or got food. It took me around 2 hours to complete that first trip around the room.

After that first pass, the need to a booth sitter dropped dramatically until the last hour or so. What didn’t diminish was the vendors’ interest in talking with the volunteers. I found myself pulled into several conversations as I checked in on people throughout my shift.

The end of my Saturday shift was interesting, it mostly involved helping the single vendors cover over their tables. Not that anyone “needed” help, but I tried to make it a little easier on them.

Sunday’s shift started out a bit busy, helping people set up and fetch things. But once the show officially opened, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. Booth sitting help wasn’t needed until a couple hours later as people started needed breaks.

Because of the bad weather, vendors started closing up early. By the time my shift finished, about a third of the vendors had left.

The Good

The vendors were genuinely appreciative of the volunteers. Everyone I spoke to was very happy to have people available to relieve them, if necessary.

Being a volunteer, and needing to introduce myself to people, helped with my introvert qualities, and I made several new friends amongst the vendors.

I also enjoyed speaking with customers as I booth sat. It was nice to help people out (as much as possible).

Potential Improvements

One of my pen friends, and a fellow volunteer, Diwakar, mentioned that it would be useful to have something that the vendors could hold up to “flag down” a volunteer.

Something like those paper fans on popsicle sticks that get handed out at outdoor events would work really well, especially in a bright color.

I also think it would be useful to have a more obvious way to denote volunteers. Whether that be a shirt (which didn’t quite get arranged this year), a colorful button, or even an arm band, it doesn’t matter. I just don’t think the white name tags we were given stood out enough from the vendor name tags.

Overall Thoughts

In general, I had a fabulous time. I’d say the only negative about the experience is that my feet hurt at the end of it. That’s not a major issue, though, nor is it anything that the BWIPS organizers could fix.

As I said earlier, I very much look forward to volunteering again next year. And I might even teach a class. πŸ˜‰

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