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Her transition: From volunteer to running the show

By : Stephen P. Jensen


Four years ago, Jean Dorak was an Empire State Games vol- unteer. She signed on at the last minute, and she took her lumps.

This time around, she was more prepared. She needed to be because she served as the 2004 Games campus volunteer coordinator.

“In 2000, I decided I wanted to help out, but I volunteered so late that they assigned me to volleyball, which I knew nothing about,” said Dorak, just a few days removed from this year’s Binghamton Games.

“I was assigned as a linesman and they taught me the flag movements in five minutes, and I had to make all the calls.”

It wasn’t pretty, she said, laughing.

“At one point, I made the right call but had the flag movement wrong,” Dorak said, “and I had fans yelling at me.”

But it wasn’t a complete nightmare for the seemingly unflappable Dorak, who spends her days on campus as the building administrator for Science II.

“It was rewarding, and what was nice was it gave you a chance to take some time out of your day to do something different,” she recalled. “It was fun, and so many people from the University were involved.”

For her, it wasn’t enough. So when the 2004 Games were announced, Dorak answered the call for help from event organizers.

In retrospect, her description of rounding up and righting 420 volunteers to cover 17 on-campus events was “controlled craziness,” she said.

Her first order of business was to streamline the operation, she said. She enlisted the help of Jim Scott, web site administrator for Continuing Education and Outreach. Scott, said Dorak, created a way for volunteers to enlist on-line.

“I gave him what I wanted for the on-line application,” she said of Scott. “He deserves all the credit in the world. I had a great little vision, but I had no idea how to make it work. He was the calm behind the storm.”

But while the impersonal, albeit efficient, format helped ease her paperwork, it also left a void she hadn’t counted on.

“I thought it was going to be cut and dried,” Dorak said of the recruitment vehicle. “But what I found is that it was more of an emotional thing for people (to volunteer), and they want to have a connection with the coordinator.”

Her first clue that she’d be in demand came at the volunteer gathering scheduled the Friday prior to the start of the Games. Dorak had planned to occupy one of the four tables set up at the Events Center.

Instead, she played hostess.

“Everyone wanted to meet the face behind the name,” she said. “That, to me, was overwhelming. People of all ages, with all different needs, but they were all somehow connected to this Jean Dorak, whoever she was.

“People were telling me about their vacations, about their plans for the weekend here,” she said. “And during the Games, my voice mail was filled to capacity every few minutes. I stayed late to respond to calls because I felt people wanted that interaction.”

Dorak had one particularly high-profile fan.

“I think being volunteer coordinator takes someone who’s organized and detail-oriented,” said Fred Smith executive director of the Empire State Games since 1995, “and Jean’s that. Of all the committees, it’s the lifeblood of the Games. I think she’s done a remarkable job.

“We’ve had limited success in volunteer recruitment across the state, and it takes a special talent to pull that off.”

And, perhaps, sleep deprivation.

Logistically, while Dorak personally ran on half a tank much of the four-day event, her operation appeared on cruise control.

“I had people telling me as the weekend went on that my eyes were getting smaller,” she said, “but it was really neat to go around to all the events and meet everyone. There was an excitement. They all wanted to give to the community, and that was fabulous to see. “The only real problems we had were no-shows,” she added, “and I had a group of volunteers on standby, so I’d just call them and they’d be there.”

There was, of course, the added perk of getting the keys to a campus Global Electric Motors (GEM) limited use vehicle, also known as a “bubble car.”

“I got to drive one of those carts around all weekend,” she said, laughing at herself, “so I decided that I need a job on campus where I get to drive a cart every day. “Those things go 30 mph. I was getting a little cocky toward the end. I was zooming around.”

But aside from the four-wheeled outlet, would she do it all again?

“There was such a momentum to it all,” she said. “Call me crazy, but definitely. It was such a challenge, but to get through it and have it be so successful is rewarding.

“Plus, I’m a glutton for punishment.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08