Helping Hands

Most area residents, as well as thousands of others from across the globe, are aware of downtown Jamestown’s “Lucille Ball Comedy Festival” – as sponsored and hosted by the Lucy-Desi Museum and Center for Comedy.

Lesser known are the center employees, volunteers and interns who put in months of work to make sure the annual five-day festival goes off without a hitch.

Each year, the center must take on extra hands in order to see to the various tasks and arrangements that must be made in preparation for its biggest five days of the year – which will be Aug. 6-10 this time around. According to Steve Neilans, marketing and communication coordinator for the center, this year’s preparations have warranted the addition of nine interns to the center; which he said would be hard-pressed to put on the comedy festival without expanding its workforce over the summer months.

“During the festival, we kind of turn into Disney World for five days; and there’s a lot of effort that goes into making that happen,” Neilans said. “We definitely don’t have a large staff by any means, and so we are really reliant on the support of volunteers and interns.”

Two such volunteers are Lauren Stroud and Isabella Zuroski, who have been playing active roles in keeping the Lucy-Desi Center’s daily activities running smoothly since May. According to Stroud, an Allegany native, her internship with the center has provided her with a practical application of marketing – a field in which she recently earned a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Fredonia in the spring.

“I think it’s been a pretty fulfilling experience so far,” said Stroud, who will be attending St. Bonaventure University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree. “I’m a marketing intern, so I’ve been working on general promotions and have gotten more into promoting specific events. For the future, I’m looking to get into advertising with an advertising firm; and I think this is going to really help me out because I’ve learned a lot of valuable tools to help me with that. And everyone knows the Lucille Ball name so, from a resume standpoint, I’ve really helped to brand myself.”

Zuroski, a Bemus Point native, has been working as an events management intern; and has also been involved with the center as a tour guide. Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and sociology from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, she said she pursued her internship as a means of bridging the gap to graduate school in a productive way.

“My favorite thing about interning here is that it can be whatever I make of it,” she said. “And the variety of stuff I get to do is very interesting because I’ve done things like catalog items for the silent auction, pick out a cake for the Lucille ‘Ball’ and help write contracts and schedule travel arrangements for the comedians. When you see an event like this from the outside, you might think everything takes care of itself and it’s easy to put on. But when you’re here, you realize how much you matter and how much the work you do is necessary to getting things done – because if you don’t step up, it’s not going to happen.”

Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucy-Desi Museum and Center for Comedy, described the internship program as mutually beneficial for all parties.

“There’s a lot of value to it in that it’s not a ‘run and get coffee’ internship,” Gunderson said. “It’s pretty substantive and hands-on, and our interns handle a lot of things that are staff-level in terms of the importance of the work. And I think it’s a rare opportunity to be involved with things that have a national scope, like dealing with the entertainment agencies coast to coast. You just can’t get that otherwise locally.

“And we benefit from their energy, as well,” she added. “Because not only is it like being infused with a bunch of really energetic people, we get a bunch of new, objective thoughts and eyeballs on things – which is really valuable. There’s something really valuable to having some new perspective infused into the project every single year. I know the board (of directors) is really grateful for this team because, a few years ago without an internship program, the board was doing everything from bagging products in the gift shop to selling the tickets. So now they’re freed up to do some more board-oriented things.”

With the Lucy Comedy Fest less than two weeks away, the center is still looking for last-minute volunteers. According to Cindy Aronson, a member of the board of directors and volunteer coordinator, the center is looking for individuals who are interested in being “ambassadors for Jamestown.”

“What’s happening at the Lucy-Desi Center is very exciting, and this festival in particular is a game changer,” Aronson said. “We have over 200 positions to fill each year – everything from working in our gift shop, to lending extra hands in admissions, to selling beverages, to helping with sales and our fashion show. It’s a good opportunity for interns and volunteers to connect to something in Jamestown.”

The Lucy-Desi Museum and Center for Comedy is located at 2 W. Third St. in Jamestown, and can be contacted at 484-0800, or at info@lucy-desi.com. For more information on the Lucy Comedy Fest, visit www.lucycomedyfest.com.