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2019 National Senior Games: More than 5,500 volunteers pitch in

Volunteers Kristen Kim, front, and Elsie Barber work the scorer’s table on Saturday at the National Senior Games basketball venue. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Brian Morris hung out the “Help Wanted” sign in December.

A few months after he was chosen to serve as volunteer recruitment manager for the 2019 National Senior Games, Morris realized what a massive undertaking he was facing. With more than 14,000 athletes in 20 sports set to converge on Albuquerque for a 12-day event in June, Morris knew there was no time to waste.

“The big thing was letting people know the Games were happening,” Morris said. “Then you just hope the community and some local businesses will respond. They have in a big way and it’s been so gratifying to see.”

The numbers are impressive.

More than 5,500 volunteers have turned out to work at the Games, filling more than 8,000 positions, Morris said. The average shift is four hours long, but many volunteers have willingly exceeded that span to keep things running smoothly and senior athletes visiting from around the country smiling.

“Everyone’s been very positive and I’m having a great time,” said Kathy Batt, a University of New Mexico parking and transportation department employee who worked a 9½-hour shift manning a help and information desk Saturday at Dreamstyle Arena.

UNM is one of several organizations – Presbyterian Health Care, Gap Inc. and Duke City Commercial among them – who have given employees up to five hours of paid time off to volunteer at the Games.

Batt was unable to take advantage of that opportunity but picked up Saturday’s long shift on her own. She even did a little recruiting when the Dreamstyle Arena crew turned out to be short-handed.

“They needed more scorekeepers, so I called my daughter (Kara Tromp) to come help out,” Batt said. “We love helping people. I don’t think you can put a price on that.”

Volunteers Hector Jaquez and Geri Newton watch the action while working as scorekeepers during Saturday’s National Senior Games basketball competition at UNM’s Rudy Davalos Practice Facility. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Morris said there have been a few instances when extra help was needed at various Games venues. Filling positions has not been a problem.

“A lot of the athletes have stepped in to volunteer when they’re not competing,” Morris said. “We’ve also had some groups call and asked if they could help. We had 50 kids from a church youth group one day, and the entire Rio Rancho High football team came out. Things like that make a difference.”

Morris estimated that roughly half of this week’s volunteers came on board through group participation while the other half signed up as individuals. The latter number included Kristen Kim, a mother of four who spent Saturday morning as a basketball scorekeeper.

“It’s very organized,” Kim said. “They basically told me when to show up, gave me a T-shirt and put me to work.”

 

Kim came away impressed after working a pair of women’s 60-plus age division games.

“It’s been amazing to watch. These players are intense,” she said. “I’d like to come back Monday and let my kids see this.”

Geri Newton, a retiree from Albuquerque’s South Valley, agreed. Saturday was her fourth day of volunteer work at various venues.

“Watching the pole vault was just amazing,” Newton said. “Seeing what some of these people can do and how positive they are is inspiring. That’s why I keep coming back.”

Morris estimated that volunteers will work more than 30,000 man-hours before the Games conclude on Tuesday. Roles have varied from rule enforcement at events like shuffleboard and table tennis to simply giving directions and restaurant recommendations.

“The national folks have told me we’ve had some of the best volunteer numbers ever for these Games,” Morris said. “People keep coming back, too, which is a really positive sign. The community has really stepped up.”

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