Denver’s Democratic National Convention will be fortified with potentially tens of thousands of volunteers to greet convention-goers, staff exhibits and drive delegates from Denver International Airport to their hotels. Many of the volunteers — 3,940 people to be exact — will be coming to Denver from out-of-state, and they’ll be orienting themselves to the city as they guide convention visitors around it.
Luckily, say officials with the DNC Host Committee, those do-gooders will be able to check out the city of Denver online before they hit the ground. Organizers are directing the out-of-state volunteers to the Host Committee Web site, where a plethora of Denver-based information — official guides and a "fast facts" paragraph — is waiting at their fingertips. And if that’s not enough? Well, it’s got to be. DNC Host Committee communications assistant Trini Dominguez says she’s simply not worried about the prospect of thousands of confused and bumbling greeters.
"With all the information they have available to them, there is no way that any confusion can arise," she says. "We have plenty of information available to them at any moment."
Some out-of-state volunteers, however, already made their way to the Mile High city for an orientation last Saturday at the Wells Fargo Theater in the Colorado Convention Center. Dominguez says she doesn’t know just how many volunteers have signed up for the DNC, but the numbers are growing every day. In June, the Colorado Independent reported that 26,000 people had registered to volunteer and that only a third would be used. But now, the DNC Host Committee plans to make space for all the do-gooders by assigning them short, 4-hour shifts. All volunteers are required to either attend an orientation in person or online; over the weekend there were two "customer service" trainings where 6,500 volunteers — 650 of them out-of-staters — were taught how to make a perfect first impression on Denver’s visitors.
Keith Colbert and his son Charles traveled to Denver from Washington, D.C., for the orientation. They will be volunteering on the last day of the convention since Charles, a junior political science major at Duke University, has to return to school.
"Who knows when this opportunity will come again?," Charles said at the Saturday orientation, adding that Barack Obama’s historic candidacy propelled him to volunteer. This will be Keith’s third convention; he attended the 1988 and 1992 DNC’s in Atlanta and New York City, respectively.
Though the Colberts are new to Denver, they sat through the same orientation as the local volunteers. The event had the tenor of a dating workshop or a stand-up comedy show; do-gooders received a free DNC pin and two Staples gift certificates for their efforts. Dawn Lehman, with the Dale Carnegie corporate training company, reminded volunteers to ask about the name of the convention-goers they encounter, and then go on to inquire about their home, family and work life as well as their travel experience, hobbies and their take on current events.
Lehman assured the volunteers that they could stick to one of those topics for a few moments before rushing on to the next, otherwise "they’re going to think you’re part of Homeland Security and that you think they don’t belong here," she quipped.
Josh Davies, vice president of training and development with Sage Hospitality, a hotel management company in Denver, presented at the orientation as well. Davies entered the stage to rock music, saying "Let me ask you a question," to the thousands of volunteers-in-training. "I’m not really sure. Are you ready?" He asked one side of the room to say "Den" and the other side to say "ver," and then urged the crowd to yell "Den-ver, Den-ver" over and over again.
"There is something special about this place," he said. "There is something about this place. It could be the 300 days of sunshine each year. Or the fact that we brew more beer than any other city."
Davies then told the volunteers to recommend top tourist sites to Denver visitors, saying he especially likes the 16th Street Mall because it’s got many types of people, "the suits hanging around, the quasi-homeless teens and the robot dude."
The volunteers weren’t trained in specific tasks during the orientation. In fact, most of them have not yet received word of their assignments. Only a select bunch — convention organizers don’t yet know how many — will access the convention itself, serving as pages, runners, or photo-copiers for the delegates. These volunteers will be stationed at the three official convention sites: the Pepsi Center, the Colorado Convention Center and Invesco Field. Other volunteers will be positioned outside the main action, volunteering at a multitude of DNC Host Committee events, like the American Presidential Experience, an exhibit of presidential memorabilia in the Invesco Field parking lot, the After Five Jazz and Blues Festival in Five Points, and even the Freewheelin’ bike racks located around the city, where convention-goers can borrow some wheels to get around the city.
But the fact that many volunteers won’t get into the convention hasn’t stopped them from coming, and the DNC Host Committee is still accepting online applications for alternates as it prepares to train 4,000 more do-gooders. Julie Vance of Denver was at Saturday’s training. She says she also decided to volunteer because of Obama’s candidacy. "I’ve volunteered for other things," she says. "As a volunteer you are not always going to get to be at the best place at the best time."
Asked if she thought the orientation was helpful, she paused for a moment and said, "Yeah. I’m surprised."