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      Volunteers Continue to Drive State Fair Visitor Experience

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      They're often the first person a visitor interacts with: yellow-shirted volunteers like Paula Heck are found at the gate and all over the Nebraska State Fair.

      “My husband and I both volunteer and we just enjoy coming out to the fair. And since it's here in Grand Island now, it's a lot easier to do,” says Heck, a Grand Island resident.

      Around 750-800 other people like the Hecks are giving their time and efforts, helping with information, events and entertainment.

      The volunteer program popped up when the fair moved to GI five years ago.

      “We never had volunteers in Lincoln to speak of, and we were blown away with the number of people that stepped up and became a part of the Nebraska State Fair,” says State Fair Board chair Jana Kruger.

      Kruger says they do speak of their volunteers, telling other fair organizers across the country and world about their unique gift in these many willing hearts.

      She says she can't say what might happen if the program were to go away, but she does believe it's important to the fair -- each person making what might seem like tiny differences for a visitor.

      “One little thing will just taint your whole experience, and so we really feel like our volunteers are that first, your first point of the fair, and to see a smile and to say welcome and what can I do for you - it's wonderful,” she says.

      Grand Island Chamber of Commerce Volunteer Program coordinator Dana Miller says the fair won't ever have to plan to be without these helpers.

      “I think that our volunteer program, it truly sets our fair apart from others and it's become such a presence that I don't think that we'll ever be able to do away with it,” says Miller.

      In the weeks leading up to this year's fair, the program was down on volunteers signing up early, but Miller says they ended up filling their needs.

      She says just looking at the number of people who don the yellow shirt isn't always the best way to measure the amount of help either.

      “Within that range we have people who volunteer just one four-hour shift one day and then we have people who are out here every day, so that's going to be flexible depending on how many people are taking on additional shifts,” she says.

      Miller says there has and continues to be a lot of retirees who help out, but a lot of younger adults are coming after they get off work or spending a vacation day at the fair. She says the Chamber's Young Professionals group has been organizing to volunteer more people.

      Last year volunteers gave an estimated 11,000 hours to the fair, and with some extra events and entertainers needing help, Miller says they'll probably put in more in 2014.


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