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SHORT HISTORY OF THE JCF VOLUNTEER SERVICE

Festival is the volunteers. Without them it would be difficult to execute more than 100 events of each Festival edition, which are often held at the same time and in different places of Kazimierz. If the Festival is a great machine which sets off for a frenetic journey, it is the volunteers that provide the momentum for this machine, yet at the same time, allow it to keep its balance. And this is an important thing. Sometimes even the most important one.

And so – for more than 20 years – the Machers grew into the Festival community. Today, it is difficult to imagine the JCF without the Machers, whose number is growing from year to year. Have you ever wondered how it all started?

Let us begin with a well-proven recipe for managing a team of a few dozen persons. A handful of experience and a sea of empathy – in other words: whoever has tasted volunteerism will understand volunteers best. And this is what happened.

The first coordinator of the volunteers was Jacek Dymel, who – as he says himself – after two years of being a volunteer, was thrown in at the deep end, when the previous head of the team, Dorota Szlenk got pregnant and Janusz Makuch proposed this function to Jacek.

 

And it stayed like this, the next coordinators: Paweł Kowalewski, Aleksandra Ziętek or Edyta Gawlak also started their adventure with the JCF with being one of The Machers.

Volunteers make up a diverse team, and for the last 20 years it has been changing in many aspects. At the start, the volunteers came to the Festival “upon recommendation”, of the previous volunteers, which made them a rather closed group. The work would start at the end of May, when having received the work schedule and having been instructed in the safety regulations – each volunteer – responsible for their small section of the Festival – got on with their work!

Almost 8 years ago a true revolution of the volunteer service started, which, in 2012 resulted in the current form of JCF volunteerism. Out of one-action volunteer service to which only recommended people were invited, it developed into a year-round and long-term project.

The changes started already at the recruitment process – it was completely open with the application form available of the JCF website and it began much earlier – in the winter preceding a given edition of the Festival.

The search for Machers – as the JCF volunteers started to be named since then – were carried out on a wide scale. Information meetings were organized at Krakow universities with leaflets and announcements, as well as Internet campaigns.

And it was worthwhile – new highly motivated persons, ready to become a part of the Festival came – they also studied related fields, such as Jewish studies or culture management.

At the same time, the most important and the most daring change took place. Volunteer service became a permanent pillar of the Society’s activity.

For the entire year, the Machers took an active part in the Festival’s life – a special educational program, tailored to their needs was created; there were trainings, workshops, study visits, among others, to Sejny, Vilnius, Budapest, Wroclaw and Prague, to the Podlasie region, and also – as part of the collaboration with an Israeli youth organization – to Israel. The volunteers were trained not only in interpersonal relations, but also in fundraising, project management and marketing…

In spite of the completely inclusive character of the group, the most important thing in the work with volunteers started to grow: relations. More engagement allowed for even a better work during the Festival.

With time, volunteers service at the Festival was open for those who came from abroad, who either came to Krakow specially for the JCF or had been living here for some time and studied here. After a few years, this multicultural mosaic was joined by seniors; 10 years before the volunteer service at the Festival was limited only to young people, aged between 18 and 30. For 3 years now, the seniors have made a fully-fledged part of the first cultural volunteer service in Krakow, which has been collaborating with elderly people as well.

Also the volunteers’ tasks kept changing – the uncomplicated actions at the production and execution of the events of the Festival and Cheder (the Festival club and café), were completed with more creative tasks. A permanent team of volunteers was set up and it invented and executed a series of events within the Cheder program and also carried out a project against the hate speech within the city space, “Zmaluj to!” (“Paint it Over!”) This gave rise to the current volunteer project – Workshops for Seniors.

Last year brought another novelty – the possibility of execution of the project of the European Solidarity Corps, which, for the first time in history, in June 2021 will not only allow to invite the volunteers from the whole world, but also will give them the possibility to live for a month in Krakow, so that they could experience the Festival energy to the fullest.

For many years, the JCF offer for the volunteers has been unique. In the times of change occurring in the organization of volunteer service, very few institutions have been carrying out a similar comprehensive program for volunteers and shared a similar approach to the role of volunteer service in their work. These values are important for us today, placing the Machers and their needs in the center of our actions, and first and foremost, providing them with a possibility to develop and learn from each other.

photos: Michał Ramus, Nastya Grinmann, The Machers

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