With throngs of visitors swarming into Atlanta for the Super Bowl, volunteers are often the first faces these travelers see and the first impressions they have of Atlanta. From a pool of more than 30,000 applicants, and following a thorough interview process, 10,000 were chosen to represent Atlanta and to facilitate the hundreds of events leading up to the Super Bowl.
Three Jewish Atlantans spoke to the AJT about how they got involved, what their responsibilities entail, and what they hope visitors take away from their time in Atlanta.
Karen Needle feels right at home at a football game. She grew up in Seattle as a massive Seahawks fan, watching games with her dad and brothers. Now retired, she thought the idea of volunteering for a Super Bowl was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fun.
Her initial application was submitted almost a year ago, in March, and was followed by an incredibly detailed and streamlined interview process with so many volunteers. She also noted that she may have stood out from the crowd a little.
“I went into the interview wearing my Falcons gear from head to toe,” she said. “They could definitely tell I was enthusiastic.”
Needle said her previous volunteer work and experience as a supervisor were the kinds of experience interviewers were looking for throughout the process.
She was selected as a volunteer and initially assigned to Super Bowl Live — a weeklong event at Centennial Olympic Park — despite requests to be in an indoor location. At a volunteer rally in November 2018, she asked to have her assignment switched, and was moved to volunteer headquarters.
While she doesn’t know what her exact role will be, she does know that volunteer headquarters is where volunteers check in.
“I expect I’ll be greeting people, and there’s a snack area for the volunteers working the outdoor areas,” Needle said. “I think I’m going to be helping people figure out their assignments or where they need to be.”
Murray Sarkin is not new to volunteering at big events. He previously volunteered to help with the Olympics, both in Atlanta and in Los Angeles, so the Super Bowl seemed like the next logical choice.
“Everyone gets involved and it becomes a team atmosphere where everyone is working together to leave a good impression,” he said.
He applied and, along with tens of thousands of other prospective volunteers, headed downtown for the interview process, as team leaders one-by-one spoke to applicants to cut the pool down to the final selections.
“They called me and told me I’d been selected as a volunteer for the Super Bowl,” Sarkin said. “I was assigned to a hotel, as an in-house volunteer.”
With dozens of hotels throughout the city welcoming guests, volunteers are posted at each official partner hotel to help guide visitors and tourists and provide information about local food options, events and Super Bowl activities.
There are three shifts on the schedule. Sarkin’s first day volunteering was Thursday and his goal was simple: to leave visitors with a lasting impression of Atlanta.
“I want them to see that we’re well-informed and can help them navigate, and I hope they come away with a positive image of the city and a positive idea of what we’re doing,” he said.
Sarkin also explained that he thought face-to-face interaction with visitors was a strength for him. He believes his experience acting, a hobby for almost 30 years, helped prepare him for events like these.
“Acting helps me to be outgoing and to be excited and show a positive attitude.”
Abby Shiffman first learned about the opportunity to volunteer on Facebook and was open to helping wherever she was needed. Like Sarkin, she was assigned to hotels.
“I ended up volunteering very close to home,” she said. “By the time I got online to select my region and time slots, pretty much everything downtown was completely taken.”
This isn’t Shiffman’s first time volunteering for the big game; she also participated when the Super Bowl was in Miami during her college days.
“I was assigned to a hotel back then too,” she said.
For her three shifts, she’ll be manning a table at a hotel greeting visitors and sharing information with those in town for the Super Bowl.
“It’s exciting; everyone’s promoting the city as a whole and working to make it a welcoming environment,” Shiffman said.
She added that a large part of the volunteer process was about making Atlanta a fun place to be and an appealing travel destination. “You want to make Atlanta a place where people may want to come back in the future if they have a little time,” she said.