Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Convention center looks to add volunteers

By Justin Webster, Ledger sports editor | Apr 13, 2018
Susan Pavelka

Ten years into the history of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, one theme rings as true as the day the doors were opened according to Executive Director Rustin Lippincott.

“The volunteers are the shining stars of our production, and really, if you think about it, the show can’t go on without our stars.”

Lippincott says there are four different kinds of volunteers that give their time and talent.

Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts volunteers: Greet guests and hand out brochures and playbills. Scan tickets and usher visitors to their seats.

Event volunteers: They are behind the scenes helping with wedding receptions and other big events.

Committee volunteers: Includes Sondheim Sound Improvement Committee, which has spent the last three years working toward redoing the sound system in the theater, and the SE Iowa Farm Show Committee.

Board of Directors: A group of 12 local community leaders that helps steer and direct the FACC.

Lippincott doesn’t distinguish between the ticket takers and the board members.

“All four groups are important and are the lifeblood of the center. We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.” The center’s director since 2010, Lippincott added, “They give us their time, their talent, their voice and their support.”

Speaking of time, local volunteers have given over 12,000 hours of service to the facility over its first 10 years, and while the volunteer of the year usually gives about 100 hours of time, most do about 20 hours of service which would be six to seven shows a year, or one every other month.

Lippincott says it’s a win-win because the volunteers like to interact with the people, and they get to see the shows to boot.

Current and future volunteers “work” about three hours each event, but Lippincott and Ticketing and Volunteer Coordinator Francesca Greco both reiterated that the actual workload is very light and only lasts about 30-45 minutes before and after the performance with two-thirds of the time spent enjoying the show itself.

About 95 percent of the volunteers are in the Sondheim theater because that’s what people like to do.

They have a training program that gets you acclimated to the theater, by pairing newbies with a longer termed volunteer who knows the ropes.

Lippincott wants to grow the number of volunteers to 100 for shows, which he believes is very possible since they had nearly 200 show up when the facility opened a decade ago.

Joining is a simple and quick process that includes filling out a brief application and being trained by one of the more experienced members before being ready to join in the fun solo.

Lippincott says that about 40 residents have volunteered since the doors opened a decade ago, and based on the numbers released by the National Association of Volunteers, the collective total value of all of the teammates hours served to the community over the 10 years is over $4.5 million.

Greco added that the most common misconception is that it’s a lot of work.

“Depending on what job you decide to do, it could be as simple as standing there and greeting people as they enter and handing them a program, or earplugs for our shows like the Japanese Drummers.”

Greco said that the most work is probably done by the ushers because they physically show guests to their seat, but there are many roles that volunteers can fill to contribute. If you aren’t comfortable coming alone, you can encourage a friend to participate with you and you can give your time as a pair, although most volunteers are surprised at just how many people they already know from the community who are there giving their time and talents as well.

Of course, the thing new members get most excited about is actually seeing the show, because after 30-45 minutes, you can sit and enjoy the performance.


Volunteer spotlight

Susan Pavelka

Began volunteering: October 2016

Role at the Sondheim: Greeter

Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Currently resides in: Fairfield

Loved ones: Late husband Harry Pavelka and two dogs: Emma, Molly

Fun facts: Has been coming to the Sondheim since the beginning and ran for Congress in Michigan and New Jersey. Traveled a lot with the Trancendental Meditation movement.

“The theater has all types of shows, shows for everyone. It’s a beautiful theater. I’m spoiled because I live three blocks from the theater. People love it.” -Susan Pavelka


Favorite thing about volunteering at the theater?

Pavelka: Seeing the wonderful shows and there is never a bad seat. I love the people. Seeing my friends and meeting new people, I love to give back.


What inspires you to give your time?

I’ve worked in non-profit my entire life and it’s not about making money.

This is a way to give back, and I feel like I get more back than I give.


Any especially meaningful moments at the Sondheim?

I was in the balcony with four kids and they were vacationing from Minnesota going south. They worked it out so they could see a show on their way.


Favorite shows at the Sondheim?

Russian National Ballet and the Beach Boys tribute.


What has been the biggest surprise about volunteering?

That people come from all over, and I’ve never been to a show that I didn’t like and I’ve been to a lot.


What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering?

People are excited when they hear about it. You get to earn points for free tickets and you get to see the shows when you are working too.

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