On the fifth floor of the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts office – inside the same building as Antoinette Hatfield Hall – the Madison conference room is bustling. About 20 Portland’5 volunteer committee representatives have gathered in the brightly painted room for a monthly meeting to discuss the inner workings of the volunteer program.
Portland’5 enlists approximately 550 volunteers, and they are internally managed by four committees which correspond to the four main jobs of the volunteer corps – tour guides, gift shop salespeople, ushers, and office assistants.
Representatives from each committee are present at the Oct. 18 meeting – along with volunteer coordinator Margie Humphreys and director of event services Joe Durr – to share reports and updates from their committees, talk about safety and customer service protocol during events, and discuss how volunteers can make the most difference at Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.
Making a difference and providing top-notch customer service is the volunteers’ bread and butter. They are not paid for the collective 40,000 hours of service per season. Some have been coming back for 25 years or more.
To say that volunteering with Portland’5 is a labor of love would be an understatement.
Dixie Villa joined Portland’5 volunteer corps nine years ago after finishing a 30-year career as an operations manager at a local bank. She says that being part of the local arts and entertainment scene was a big reason behind her decision to start volunteering.
After starting her volunteering career as an usher, Dixie found her passion in leading tours of the Portland’5 venues. Over the years she has fulfilled a number of roles and jobs, including helping to plan volunteer recognition events and organizing volunteer-run performances for the public. But her favorite job is still being a tour guide.
“We were taken on our first tour [as volunteers], and I said ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to show off these theaters’,” she said.
When asked what keeps her coming back each season, Dixie said the two biggest factors are the professionalism and the camaraderie. “You know when your time is, you are treated with respect, and we have really important jobs,” she said. “Especially with tour guides, we feel we are the ambassadors – and I love showing people these theaters. The more people that see the theaters will come back and see a show.”
Being part of the volunteer program has also given Dixie the opportunity to cross an item off her “bucket list”: doing stand-up comedy. At a bi-annual volunteer appreciation event, which was variety show themed, Dixie gathered up the courage to try telling jokes in front of an audience for the very first time.
“I did stand-up comedy in my favorite theater, which is the Winningstad, in front of a very warm, inviting audience. Since then, I’ve been able to go on and do stand-up in other places because they gave me that opportunity, and I will forever be grateful for that,” she said.
Terry Lou Glafka is a retired high school English teacher. She began volunteering at Portland’5 immediately after retiring in 2004. She primarily works as an usher and a greeter, and has chaired a number of committees during her tenure with Portland’5.
She said that she heard about the volunteer program through a friend, and that she had been to shows at Portland’5 venues before as an audience member, but had never considered devoting her time and energy as a volunteer. And much like Dixie, a big part of what draws her back to the program every season is the friendships and connections she was able to make through her committee work.
“We have over 500 volunteers, so you could work as an usher and not see the same people hardly at all. By getting involved in the committees, you make real relationships with people – you see them more often and you become friends,” she said.
On top of that, Terry says that as an usher she has been exposed to shows and events that she would otherwise never have attended due to cost or lack of interest: “A number of years ago they had the international animation festival here. I would never have bought a ticket to go do this, but it was so cool!”
Terry vividly remembers when Dave Chappelle performed at the Newmark Theater in July 2012. He came on 45 minutes late, and his set lasted until 2 a.m. She was worried that some of the audience members, whom she had seen drinking before the show, were going to be rowdy and difficult to control. Instead, she was surprised to find that everyone was on their best behavior despite Chappelle’s tardiness. She said the show was fantastic, and the audience had a great time into the early hours of the morning.
“You have experiences like that, that you’ll never get anywhere else,” she said.