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  • Writer's pictureJessica

"Ginny & Georgia": Lessons in Volunteer-Related Risk Management from Netflix Show

Updated: May 3

I've taken a few days off work to celebrate my wedding anniversary and extend the May 2-4 long weekend. So of course, it's an opportunity to binge-watch another TV show.

Enter Ginny & Georgia, a soapy coming-of-age story about 30-year-old Georgia, and her 15-year-old daughter Ginny. Georgia describes their relationship as "like the Gilmore Girls, but with bigger boobs." The show dives into some tough and highly relevant topics, like childhood sexual trauma, biracial identity, white privilege, classism, self-harm, and substance use. In between, there are some funny and tender-hearted moments. As with Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, I did not expect a volunteering scene! Never mind two! (Well, two so far, I have a few episodes left to watch)!

More interestingly, both the volunteering scenes showed how things can go wrong and are an excellent opportunity to explore risk management.

Scene One: The Sophomore Social

The show is set in the fictional town of Wellsbury, Massachusetts. Wellsbury is a seemingly idyllic town with longstanding traditions, highly involved citizens, and overt displays of class privilege; it's very "keeping up with the Jonses."

The Sophomore Social is a school dance for kids in grade 10, where they pay $100 each to play in bouncy castles, eat a ton of sugar, and sleep on the floor of the school gym. Georgia volunteers to chaperone the event. But:

- She isn't screened for the role even though as an adult, she would have the opportunity to be alone with teenagers while in a position of power.

- Her training consists of her asking if she should be checking for drugs, alcohol, or sexual activity, and her neighbour telling her "the less we know the better".

- She ends up in the Principal's office on her own, with all the cash from ticket sales.

Georgia steals some cash, and really, that's why she volunteered for the role. She saw an opportunity for theft and needed cash to support her children. Perhaps screening would not have changed this outcome. Spoiler alert: Georgia has a bit of a history of theft and fraud, and she's super smart at hiding it. Screening only alerts organizations to people who have been caught.

However, there could have been a protocol for money handling that was shared with volunteers as part of training (e.g. two people with the money at all times, when the cash needs to be deposited into a safe, when the armored truck would arrive to pick it up). Alternatively, the ticket sales could all have been done electronically so that the burden of security was not put on volunteers or the school.

I was also shocked to see the leader of volunteers have such a laissez-faire attitude towards chaperoning. Also, I was disturbed about how an adult chaperone could so easily be alone with teenagers during this event. Of course, this was all for plot development.

When I thought about the situation from a volunteer engagement lens, I saw risk everywhere. With good planning, recruitment, and orientation practices, the school and the leader of volunteers could have minimized risk- better protecting the young people they had a duty of care for, and the money they had to keep safe.

Scene Two: Face Painting at the Fall Fair

One of the many traditions in Wellsbury is the Fall Fair: a chance for the community to get together for pie-baking contests, pumpkin carving, and other wholesome fun. The event appeared to be organized by the town, engaging volunteers and local businesses to make it successful. When there isn't a global pandemic going on, hundreds of thousands of these events happen each year.

Of course, in places where people know each other well, trust is almost "auto-granted"... leading to issues like theft (see above). Nothing was stolen in this scene, but it demonstrates, again, why strong planning, recruitment, and orientation practices are important.

It's the day of the Fall Fair, and Ginny is hanging out with her friends. Suddenly, one of them announces that her mom had signed them up to run the face painting station.

Let's start here:

- What if one or more of the four girls scheduled for that station were unavailable?

- How does "volun-telling" your child and her friends to give up their Saturday afternoon support their goals as volunteers?

- Why were these four teenagers "cherry-picked" when others in town may have really wanted the volunteer roles?

A planful volunteer engagement professional would never recruit that way. They would have posted the role, screened appropriately, asked about availability and goals, and sent reminder communications about the commitment.

The scene ends with Ginny drawing a penis on another teenager's face. Did he deserve it? Yes. But was it appropriate for a volunteer to do that at a public family-friendly event? No.

An employee partner was not present to address the incident, document it, or have a constructive conversation with Ginny. Again, volunteer engagement best practice was sacrificed for plot development.

For me, this show has great entertainment value but is a poor demonstration of volunteer engagement. Needless to say, I'll continue watching.

Do you watch Ginny & Georgia? What about other TV shows that showcase volunteerism? Is risk management part of the discussion?

Please comment below!

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