Sunday, September 4, 2011

The perks of volunteering

Today is my last rostered day off - a fortnightly luxury that I'm about to lose as I embark on a new job next week. Not one to squander a good thing when I've got it, I awoke to my final RDO nursing a very mild hangover thanks to last night's perfectly scheduled 'Volunteers Party' for those of us who gave some time over the last week and a half to help out at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I was one of the last to leave the party, enjoying the free wine - no beer, damn Melbourne high-brow arty types - until the bar closed.

For me the experience was enormously fulfilling and inspiring. The festival that is, not (just) the party. I even walked away from the bar having made a few new friends.

The tasks were menial - collect tickets, set up tables and chairs, shop for fruit to feed 50 people, hand out programs, light candles and attempt to drop them into jars without the flame going out, scatter random and anonymous written apologies around the floor of a performance space; the usual sort of thing. But the people I met, performer and ordinary volunteer alike, were a wonderful breed of human, almost without exception enthusiastic, positive people keen to discuss their passions, discuss common interests and expose each other to new ideas.

There were perks ('payoffs'): free admission to most events (provided there was space), discounts on books and drinks at Fed Square, a t-shirt (!) and free wine last night. Of course there were people who didn't show or were disinterested and unhelpful - maybe expecting more engaging duties - and others who just saw it as an opportunity to get close to industry people. It's a great thing for budding writers to be involved in, but if that's the sole reason you're there its probably best not to bother.

Just about everyone I met was involved for the experience and to be part of something they were passionate about. The mood was almost always positive and energetic. In a week where I've felt increasingly disillusioned by the cynicism and superficial nature of another area of interest - politics - it was amazingly refreshing to be surrounded by such great energy. It sounds like a total wank but it was uplifting to be involved in such a communal, positive experience.

One lady told me she volunteered to meet like-minded people. It was true of both of us in a sense, but we both also wanted to step outside our normal circles and meet people from varying places, backgrounds and demographics who shared a simple passion. I mixed with people a few years younger and many years older - and not much inbetween - taking in everything from reading suggestions to analysis of the Dr Who phenomenon (I'm yet to see an episode, though I think I'll start with the ones featuring Billie Piper).

Previously, I hadn't even attended the festival since going with a school group 11 years ago. I think it was the fruitful experience of an old friend who volunteered at a small art festival last year that inspired me, and deciding I wanted to broaden my own experiences in an area of personal interest. I highly recommend it, and I'll be back in 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment