Column: Volunteers vital to arts center’s success

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Commentary by Jeffrey C. McDermott

After 31 years as a trial lawyer, I faced a steep learning curve when I became president and CEO at the Center for the Performing Arts. Having been a patron and board member, I knew we were blessed not only with talented staffers but also with an army of dedicated volunteers – “unpaid professionals” numbering nearly 300 strong who work at our three venues. I had met many of these wonderful people over the years and knew them to be welcoming and cheerful, but I did not fully appreciate all they did to support our organizations.

If I was going to lead and support them, I had to learn a lot more. I began by setting up approximately 20 lunches with groups of volunteers, so I could put names and faces together, ask questions and really grasp the scope of their job duties. I learned that they undergo extensive training to handle nearly any situation that arises. They also work long hours, arriving 90 minutes before each performance and leaving only after wishing all of our patrons goodnight.

To get a better sense of their responsibilities, I played “Undercover Boss” at a Palladium performance. I read the “Volunteer Manual” cover to cover and proudly donned the uniform of dark pants, white shirt and a tie. I reported to the pre-show usher meeting and received my assignments for the evening. I greeted patrons and scanned tickets in the South Lobby, then moved around the venue to assist with seating – under the watchful eye of an experienced volunteer mentor. For nearly five hours I stood, walked, smiled, welcomed and worked as a team with my fellow ushers.

I learned, among other things, that our volunteers are a wonderful source of new ideas. As our front-line ambassadors, they are uniquely positioned to identify new ways to enhance the guest experience. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that we literally could not provide first-class hospitality to our patrons without these volunteers. For them, this is a labor of love – love of the Center and our community.

I hope you will join us soon for a performance, and when you do, please take a moment to say hello and thank the people in the white shirts. I am sure they will appreciate it, and I know they deserve it.

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