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TV Station Volunteer

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Have you ever wanted to be on television?

If you're like thousands -- even millions -- of other people, you probably have. Some of the people who have appeared on TV did so by volunteering at their local public television station.

"We have the draw of television," says Nancy Normile. She's the volunteer coordinator of New Hampshire Public Television in Durham. "Being on TV is a sort of...bonus for a lot of people."

Colin Dougherty was the general manager of Valley Public Television (VPT) in Fresno, California. He's worked in public television since 1977, and he's seen a subtle transformation in the landscape of volunteering.

"We find that there [are] always some great folks for any organization who will come in and dedicate some of their time," he says. "[However,] I find that the number of volunteers who are willing to come in for long periods of time is lessening. It's not as fruitful as it was 20 years ago."

Dougherty has a couple of explanations for the decline.

"Women have always taken a stronger volunteer lead," he says. "But women's careers have made a world of difference. Their spare time is needed for their kids. The toys, the tools people use -- TV, computers -- come into taking up people's time more than it did 20 years ago."

Dougherty doesn't find a lot of students volunteering, either. "Students are mainly looking for paid internships," he says.

Even though there has been a decline in the number of volunteers at VPT, Dougherty says it hasn't affected the day-to-day business of the station.

Maria Navarro is a mother in Fresno, California. While taking a marketing class at university, she was informed she needed to volunteer for a nonprofit organization in order to satisfy the requirements of the course.

After some searching, she decided to volunteer at Valley Public Television in the marketing department. It was there that things took a sudden and exciting turn.

"I stumbled into this room full of Sesame Street stuff and all these books," Navarro says. "I have a baby...and I said, 'What is this? I want to volunteer here!'"

The room was stocked with supplies for Ready to Learn, an educational program for children to improve their reading.

"My experience so far has been wonderful," she says. "I'm even thinking about volunteering more time."

After his first year at college, Kevin Shea was looking for something to do during the summer. He submitted an application to volunteer at the local community television station and waited. Eventually he was accepted.

"I dove into everything," he says. "I signed up for different crews. I really tried to learn everything I could."

The volunteer post has worked out well for Shea. He spent four years volunteering at the station and now produces his own show.

"College taught me the basics," Shea says. "But community television added that extra training. I got practical hands-on experience on a regular basis, so it helped immensely."

Shea started volunteering as a way to get his foot in the door and land a job. But Shea says many of the volunteers he works with are retired people who have some experience with the technical aspects of TV production, or they're people looking to keep busy when they're not at work.

Often, high school and college students use volunteering at public television stations as a stepping-stone to bigger markets, says Shea.

Public television offers even beginner volunteers a chance to work with real TV production equipment. But at mainstream TV stations, volunteer activities can be limited to menial chores, such as laying cable and getting coffee.

How to Get Involved

Most American stations have minimum age requirements.

Shea looks for volunteers with some experience in the area they want to work. A television host, for instance, would benefit from having a theater or performance background.

"Come out and see what we do because it's not for everybody," Shea says. "If you're a technical person and you're good with people, it's the place for you.

"A lot of people who have gone on to big-time media started in community television," he adds.

Normile says the only thing volunteers really need is boldness.

"One of our problems here is that our volunteer activities require...sheer quantity," she says. "We're constantly trying to get volunteers. [Those interested] should just call. Any nonprofit agency that they are interested in will need volunteers. Just call and ask."


Association of Public Television Stations
Find a public television station near you

How You Can Support Public Television
Learn more about public television

Volunteer Match
Find various volunteer opportunities near you

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