Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 17 - Volunteering at WPT

I have never volunteered at Wisconsin Public Television. As a part of my "I have never..." challenge, I made the decision to volunteer once a month at an organization I have never volunteered to help in the past. Several weeks ago my search for organizations and events to meet this goal led me to Wisconsin Public Television's upcoming annual auction. When I learned I could volunteer my time working the phone bank at this event, I happily signed up to help an organization I love by fielding calls from interesting people in front of a live camera. That choice was a wise one.

Before getting the chance to work my volunteer shift this evening I had to get through my first day back to work following an extended Memorial Day weekend. The workday proved challenging as hundreds of emails greeted me upon arriving at my office. I spent the majority of my workday getting caught up and attempting to prioritize the seemingly endless piles of work appearing at my desk. By the end of the day I was exhausted and reconsidering the idea of following through with my three hour volunteer shift. However, I knew I couldn't back down after making my commitment, and I wasn't about to let a temporary case of fatigue stand in the way of my "I have never..." challenge. As a result, I made my way to the WPT studio and spurred myself into a more enthusiastic state of mind.

This stimulation proved vital to getting through the first part of the volunteer shift, which entailed a detailed, yet highly unstructured, training session on the appropriate ways to answer the phone and fill out auction slips. For twenty minutes we walked through acceptable verbiage for answering the phones, necessary questions and documentation to ensure bids were placed properly, and the layout of the television studio. The experience cast doubt over my choice of volunteer opportunity for the day's event and made me contemplate the likelihood of my WPT phone bank shift living up to my expectations. My hopes dwindled further when I saw a half of a dozen hands shoot up into the air when the instructor opened up the training session to questions. I stared at my table in disbelief as questions piled up and people began to rattle off hypothetical scenarios with little-to-no chance of ever occurring. In that moment I thought about how my fellow volunteers efforts, although well intended, were only serving to make the simple task of answering phones into an unnecessarily complex and overwhelming process. Eventually, an experienced phone bank volunteer reassured those asking questions by indicating many of the questions would answer themselves once the volunteers hit the studio floor and gave the process a try. Somewhat convinced, those hesitant and questioning volunteers relented, and we were guided to the WPT studio.

The studio
We wound our way through hallways and passed stacks of production equipment packed full of cords and cables before we arrived at the physical location of the auction. The space was surprisingly small and packed with a flurry of activity. The few people in front of the camera almost appeared to exist in a quarantined, peaceful space wrapped in invisible boundaries as the production crew, camera operators, and auction runners scurried around the behind the cameras. Auction items quickly moved in and out of the studio, production assistant arms flailed to give direction, and auction runners hurried from one place to another with stacks of paper in their hands. Meanwhile, the on auction's MC casually discussed sponsors and auction items feet away as he moved in the calm, untouched space around him. As someone that had never been in a live television studio before, the contrary nature of this activity amazed me. I knew live television broadcasts were highly coordinated events, but the physical involvement of the staff gave me a new respect for the process and inspired motivation as I took my seat at the phone bank.

Minutes passed as I waited for my first phone call to ring in on my phone. I began to feel slightly nervous as phones began ringing all round me. I shuffled the papers around my area and moved my phone to keep my hands busy. Then, suddenly, my phone rang. I sprang into action and easily guided my caller through the bidding process as if I had done it a thousand times. The local phone bank captain confirmed my first auction slip was flawless, giving me the nod of approval and a quick thumbs up. My confidence building, I began to get more comfortable and become more aware of my surroundings. After a few more error free calls, I was starting to have fun talking with my callers in an effort to make the make their experience enjoyable and to make most of my volunteer experience.

Bank shot...
Nailed it!
In time, my neighbors began to show the same degree of comfort in their roles. We started chatting between calls and keeping tabs on whose caller was "in the lead" on the items up for auction. A feeling of amity was apparent among our phone bank team, which gave each of us encouragement and helped us stir up plenty of laughter. The hours came and past in what seemed a matter moments as idle time was fleeting and spirits remained high. There was no doubt we were making the most of our volunteer efforts and doing the best we could to keep the bids rolling into WPT.

Eventually, my volunteer shift drew to a close at 9:30 tonight. I was the last of our group to receive a phone call, and I actually found myself thinking I would be happy to stay and take more if needed. The number of people filing into our recently vacated phone bank positions made it obvious there was no such need. As a result, I made my toward the phone bank coordinator as he guided the rest of the group out of the studio. I found my way back through the winding halls of the building, and thought about how taken aback I was at the amount of fun I had during my WPT volunteer experience. I decided then I would gladly volunteer at the WPT auction again if presented the opportunity, and I would do everything in my power to convince my friends and co-workers to accompany me on my next volunteer shift.

Feeling assured in my volunteer effort and my commitment to putting together a volunteer team for next year's WPT auction, I leaned into the exit door of the WPT building with a smile. The sound of heavy rain rushed into the building as the door swung open toward the city sidewalk. A sigh nearly escaped my lips at the idea of a sixth day of rain, but the sense of accomplishment and feeling of ardor still fresh from my WPT volunteer experience restrained my initial response. I felt good and nothing was going to take that away from me. Heartened by my feelings I walked into the rain undaunted and made my way down the street. "I'm on to a good thing here..." I thought as the rain drops came to rest on every inch of dry space covering my body, "I'm on to a good thing, and this is only day 17."

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