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DNC volunteers find out flexibility is a big necessity

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Some of the thousands of volunteers who traveled to Charlotte this week for the Democratic National Convention have discovered that lending a hand at such a massive event is not always as smooth and organized as they expected.

While their enthusiasm is strong for the convention itself, some volunteers report that behind the scenes, communication and planning by DNC coordinators has been disorganized.

Kalila Zunes-Wolfe, a recent graduate of Earlham College in Indiana, traveled to Charlotte from Chapel Hill on Saturday to volunteer at the convention. She picked up her first duty on Tuesday, filling an 8-hour shift as a security access volunteer at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Zunes-Wolfe said many volunteers she works with are frustrated with evolving schedules, changing tasks and the lack of notification organizers provide about updates in loose plans.

And volunteers are about to face one of the larger schedule adjustments this week: the relocation of President Barack Obama’s speech on Thursday from Bank of America Stadium to Time Warner Cable Arena. The change comes with concerns about approaching rain.

Zunes-Wolfe said she’s learned to adjust.

“There is a general disorganization of the DNC with so many people here, but I wish people could learn to go with the flow. It’s a big event and things like that are going to happen,” she said.

More than 10,000 individuals are credentialed as volunteers during the convention, said a spokesman with the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Volunteers, all older than 18, are responsible for a variety of tasks, including driving for delegates, aiding conventioneers, greeting attendees, and helping security and communication departments, according to the DNCC.

When several volunteers outside of the convention center this week were asked about their experience in helping out with the national event, they refused to comment, saying they were told in training to not speak to the press.

A male volunteer, who requested anonymity in order to not jeopardize his volunteer duties on Thursday, said for the past two days he has worked in the arena, approving access credentials. He traveled from Virginia to participate.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’ve done a lot of campaigning for the Democrats,” he said.

His only complaint – the lack of communication between organizers and volunteers.

“I didn’t receive any emails before I came (to Charlotte) on Labor Day, so I had to figure out where I was supposed to go when I got here,” he said.

On Monday night, an anonymous volunteer called the Observer with similar complaints. She said instructors leading volunteer training sessions were often not prepared and forgot handouts detailing the week’s schedules.

The caller, who is a teacher by day, compared the running of volunteer operations to that of a high school football game.

She said on Monday, she was also instructed to arrive at the Lynx light rail by 5 a.m. in order to sign in at the Charlotte Convention Center on time. The caller expressed concern about waiting for the train in the dark because the light rail did not operate until 5:30 a.m.

For Zunes-Wolfe, she’s trying to not sweat the details. It’s all about the experience, she said. The highlight of her week so far – meeting David Gregory, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It’s working with other volunteers and getting to know other people that makes (the DNC) really exciting,” she said.

On Tuesday night in the arena, volunteers seemed organized and helpful, guiding pedestrian traffic flow and helping individuals to their seats before first lady Michelle Obama delivered her speech.

“Volunteers will contribute to the success of the convention and the experience engages people who may not have had the opportunity to be a part of this in the past,” said the DNCC in an official release.

Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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