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Let me start by saying that I had the greatest time at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. It was a pleasure to spend eight days (plus training) with a group of mostly like-minded individuals who, when they were asked, signed up by the tens of thousands to volunteer at the Games… in any capacity asked.
That being said, I admit that I applied specifically to volunteer for the Taekwondo competition. It is the art that I have learned, practiced, and taught for nearly eight years, and I will likely continue throughout my life. Had the Organizing Committee seen appropriate to offer me a spot at another venue, or for another sport, I would have availed myself of the opportunity to decline when I received the offer in January. I took a lot of time off of work (unpaid) to work the games, but my interest was specific. Fortunately for me it worked out.
I received several things along the way – a uniform and a shoulder bag, tickets to the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies, and a gift certificate to Joe Fresh. I received a couple of pins, a pair of cheap sunglasses, a keychain, and a Pachi doll. After my last shift I was handed a generic certificate thanking me for volunteering. While these were all nice, the value of all of them combined does not come close to the wages I did not earn on any of those days… not by a long shot.
[vol-uh n-teer] /ˌvɒl ənˈtɪər/
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
I looked up the word to be sure because some (not most, but a vocal some) are expressing sour grapes about several of the things we received. They wanted something in exchange for their service. Some of them were upset by the quality of the shirts, the scarcity of the pins and key chains (whaddya mean we all only get JUST ONE?) and, on the last day, the participation letter that we all received. ‘It’s too cheap, it’s not personalized, and anyone can Photoshop it to make it look like they volunteered too!’
I think the first time I volunteered it was to collect signatures to have Anatoly Sharansky released from a Soviet prison. I don’t know how old I was the first time I did so, but as he was freed several years later (when I was 14 years old) we can assume I was 10 or 11. It never would have occurred to me that I should receive compensation for my work… but when Sharansky moved to Israel in 1986, I beamed with pride.
That was 30 years ago; can someone else claim that they did what I did? Sure, it’s easy. Does that mean they did it? Of course not. In the same fashion, anyone can mock up a letter that says they volunteered at the Toronto 2015 Games… but they don’t have the memories, the experiences, and the new friends to back it up.
‘But that doesn’t change the fact that someone could put it on their resume and tell prospective employers that they volunteered!’
Firstly it doesn’t take a lot to do that… 99 times out of 100 an interviewer is not going to say ‘Hey, you claim you volunteered… can I see the certificate to prove it?’ But they might ask you to talk about the experience and what you learned from it… who knows?
I was in a bar several years ago with some friends, and there was someone telling people that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces. He was trying to impress women, and from what I could tell he was about to succeed. I went up and started asking him a couple of questions. Nothing like ‘Where did you serve?’ or ‘Did you see action?’… I asked him what his Mispar-Ishi was… I didn’t explain to him that it was his Army Serial Number, because if he served he would have known… no matter how bad his Hebrew was. It took about 30 seconds to expose him as a fraud, and 30 more seconds for him to understand that one day he was going to claim to be something he wasn’t… no, there was no violence involved, but I put the fear of G-d into him. For those wondering, he left the bar alone that night… and quickly.
In the same vein, you can claim to have volunteered… but it wouldn’t take more than a few questions to either prove you were a fraud, or at least put enough doubt into the interviewer’s mind that you won’t get the job. Unless you are Mike from the show Suits you are not going to fool anyone for long.
What did I get out of the games? Believe me, I have memories that will last a lifetime, and while there are some pictures, there is no piece of paper that matters compared with the memories. I also have the swag, some of which is cool and most of it is not. But the parts that matter… nobody can take that away from me… and nobody can fake it.
So what’s my point? If you volunteered and had a bad experience (there were 23,000 of us, and I have heard some stories) then I am sorry to hear it. I’ll bet we all are. If a venue lost track of you and you showed up for a shift and were turned away because there was no record of you, well that sucks. If you are disappointed that security guards hounded you for free pins, well that is pretty crappy. If you didn’t get the right size uniform or there were too many volunteers so your credentials were cancelled, I really do feel for you. But overall, the games were an overwhelming success; Toronto 2015 was a well-oiled machine and the nightmares that everyone anticipated did not actually happen. There were no empty venues, there were no gridlock-apocalypse, and aside from one Brazilian water-polo player who is wanted by the Police here and four Cubans who decided to defect, the athletes thought the games were amazing. Hopefully, most of the volunteers did too.
If an event like Toronto 2015 was expected to be business as usual for the city then there would be nothing out of the ordinary about it… but it was never going to be business as usual, and they were extraordinary. Did things go wrong? Sure. Did the vast majority of things go right? YES.
Thank you Toronto, and on behalf of the volunteers, in light of the few loud bad apples, I apologize..
If you follow me on Facebook you will already know that I was selected as a volunteer for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. My decision to volunteer dates back to the 2013 Taekwondo Canada Open; at the end of the event the administrator thanked me for my hard work, and hoped that I would continue to volunteer, especially since Toronto was hosting the Pan Am games. I promised I would be there.
For the Canada Open (that year, as well as the upcoming games) I answered an open letter from Taekwondo Canada, and they wrote me back thanking me, and telling me where to be. It was silly, in hindsight, to think that volunteering for a worldwide multi-discipline event on a par with the Olympic Games would be as simple… and when I e-mailed them back in July, they gave me the website where volunteers had to apply. I spent fifteen minutes filling out the application, and was told to be patient, I would hear back from them soon.
When I did hear back, I was told I had to do a ‘video interview.’ After putting it off for several weeks, I finally sat down and did it in November. It was the second week of January when I got the e-mail offering me the position of Field of Play Crew, Taekwondo.
Of course I was thrilled… I was going to be up close and personal with some of the best competitors in the world in a sport that is near and dear to me. I couldn’t be more excited; I figured great… now all I have to do is wait for July to come around.
I got an e-mail inviting me to join the (Official) Toronto 2015 Volunteers page on Facebook, which I did… and I was amazed by what I discovered.
Have you ever watched a major sporting event like the Pan Am Games, or the Olympic Games, and wondered how they can go off without a hitch? You should meet some of the people on this Facebook page… and I can tell you, I am really looking forward to meeting many of them in person.
I volunteered because I love my sport, and because the event is being held in my home city. There are volunteers coming who are not athletes, but have volunteered in other cities for other events – some of them are discussing how housing of out-of-town volunteers in Toronto will differ from what they experienced in Vancouver (Winter Olymiad), Glasgow (Commonwealth Games), London, and Sochi. To be sure, there are people volunteering for sports that they love (like me)… but there are plenty of others with positions such as Media Relations, Transportation Services, Food Services, Housing… and scores more. What would make someone give up two weeks of their lives, often traveling from thousands of miles away (there is a special Facebook group for out of town volunteers, with over 200 members so far) to volunteer for games that, according to pundits on talk radio, nobody will remember in a year or two?
I suspect that the number of answers to that question will be too great to enumerate here, but I suspect for a lot of them it will have to do with dedication… and from what I am reading, a healthy measure of fun and appreciation.
Sure, there are going to be students who need volunteer credits for school. there will be young people who are just starting out and need something to put on their resume. But there are also people like me – professionals who will be taking time off of work (unpaid, of course). There are stay at home moms, and there are retirees, and there are 20,000 different stories that you would come across if you spoke to the 20,000 volunteers. It is truly amazing.
This is not my first international sporting event. In 2002 Montreal hosted the Junior Maccabiah Games; I was working for IGS Security at the time, and we were responsible for security for the entire event. It was a great experience. Back then I spoke to a lot of the volunteers, and they told me how much fun they had. I suppose I was sceptical at the time, but that was the way I was.
Over the next few months I am going to meet and get to know a bunch of great people through this event, and I am truly looking forward to it. I hope that at the end of it I will come away with some new friends and a lot of great memories. Either way, it will be a great experience!
I can’t believe it has been eight years… I wrote this article for TechRepublic while I was still working for IGS Security in Montreal. These articles are the genesis of my career as a computer consultant and IT Trainer and Presenter.
The first article tells of how and why I began to transition from a day job working as an in-house IT Professional for someone else’s company. It follows some of my thought process and the steps I took to ensure I would not get fired before it was really time for me to move on. Of course, when I wrote it I had no intention of moving on, it was simply the natural course of actions that took place.
The second article is about how I got my start as an IT Trainer… even before I was certified! I started volunteering to teach computers a few hours every week at the YM-YWHA Computer Drop-In Centre in Montreal. My old friend Gabriel Mekies put his heart and soul into that place, and I hope that my contributions helped!
It is weird to go back and find articles I wrote so many years ago… I was in a very different place in my life, both professionally and personally. It is good to see though that I was on the right track, and that I have stuck with it!