The question of how to use teen volunteers at public events comes up frequently for managers of volunteers at events. Generally, I’ve found interested teens can be successful in many volunteer areas at events, but there are some jobs where caution is indicated.
The caution doesn’t reflect on the teens’ abilities. Instead, it is a recognition of the reality that in any gathering of thousands of people, a few ‘jerks’ will be in the mix — and I don’t want to place young volunteers into situations where they are treated disrespectfully, or where their authority, and by connection the authority of the event, is flaunted.
By the time my son was in high school he had a lot of event experience, and often volunteered at events when I was no longer affiliated. One night, to reward his commitment, the team allowed him the status job of Block Manager — the person who checked in the vendors, made sure they were in the right spot, and collected any fees due. He handled it all well except for one vendor who had parked in some else’s spot. Eventually, unable to get compliance, he returned to headquarters to ask for help: “… he’s a jerk,” my son explained, “and he’s told me he doesn’t take orders from kids… an actual adult needs to deal with him.” Ultimately, it took two ‘actual adults’ and one police officer to convince the misplaced vendor to move.
Jerks rarely like to take orders — from anyone. But placing young volunteers in the situation of telling jerks streets are closed to all drivers, or they can’t cross a street here, or that they need to wait for ‘permission’ to cross, is asking young people to do more than they can. While 97-99% of the people will comply with requests, the other 1-3% can be rude, pushy, bullying, and disrespectful — and I don’t think we should place young people in that situation.
My rule is young people can do anything that doesn’t require explaining rules, or changed situations, to the general public, or to participants whose livelihood depends on the event.
Jobs that place youth in difficult situations that should be avoided
• Selling (Being the subject of a cash exchange scam, or theft, can be humiliating.)
• Safety monitor (The risk is they will be ignored, or worse, pushed aside.)
• Check-in staff for participants (People who believe ‘rules are meant for others’ require more patience, firmness, and belief in your own authority than most youth have acquired.)
Jobs especially good for youth include
• Greeters and ticket takers
• Information booth staff (if they attend training and learn the map)
• Assisting with kids’ activities
• Banner or sign carriers in a parade
• Sales assistants when paired with an adult
Pairing youth with adults can sometimes resolve the situation, and be a great training experience for the youth. Just be sure the adults don’t leave them alone to muddle through whatever comes along.
Events are fun, great for building community, and they are wonderful places for youth to demonstrate their responsibility and learn about volunteering. But events often include the unpredictable, risky, and the difficult to handle. It’s our jobs as event managers to assemble our volunteer staffs so they are capable of assessing the risks, dealing with the unpredictable, and making sure we have safe and comfortable events for our volunteers as well as our attendees.