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Karen Braam Nook: A decade of volunteerism for Milwaukee Film

“Karen has been volunteering with the festival since our organization’s inception. Last year alone, she volunteered over 80 hours with Milwaukee Film. She picks up shifts throughout the year at Member Screenings and at the office, as well as different shifts during the festival at Education Screenings, panels, special events, etc. As with any youthful nonprofit, changes do occur and we know it can be difficult to adjust for staff, let alone volunteers. Karen has rolled with the punches and stuck by us through everything; her consistency and flexibility has been so appreciated. One of our greatest needs is more film and fun loving volunteers. With her knowledge and understanding of what the role requires, she has recruited several friends to volunteer – referrals are generally some of our best recruits. We also need volunteers who are kind, patient, and compassionate, and Karen possesses all of these qualities.” – Amelia Bursi, Operations Coordinator, Milwaukee Film

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Q&A with Karen Braam Nook

What made you become a volunteer?

I had a partial early retirement from Delco Electronics. I signed up to volunteer building a home for Habitat for Humanity the week after my retirement. Since I’m not at all handy, this may not have been wise. I did have my own hard hat given to me by a union rep after walking into a pole while discussing an employee situation. Luckily my son had some downtime and my value to the team increased substantially when I brought along stronger and handier Jonathan the last part of the week.

After that experience I began looking for a better fit for my skill set. Yay – Milwaukee International Film Festival, now Milwaukee Film. No hard hat, hammer and nails needed. No pole in theatres due to sight lines. I found a fit.

Describe the organization where you volunteer and the work they do.

Milwaukee Film is nonprofit organization that puts on the annual fifteen day Milwaukee Film Festival at the end of September and provides year round programming to educators, filmmakers, students, adults, and more. The festival operates out of five Milwaukee theaters: the Oriental and Downer theatres on the Eastside, the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill in Shorewood, the Times Cinema in Washington Heights, and the Avalon Theater in Bay View. This marks the ninth festival, and over the last eight years it has grown into one of the largest regional film festivals in the country, with over 75,000 attendees in 2016.

Milwaukee Film’s mission is to entertain, educate, and engage our community through cinematic experiences. The organization believes film is a medium that is able to transcend many barriers such as age, race, sex, income, etc. Milwaukee Film also holds the communal viewing experience in exceptionally high regard as it contributes so greatly to the mission.

The organization’s vision is to make Milwaukee a center of film culture. They have been doing this for years by bringing the best of cinema to Milwaukee during the festival. Beginning July 1, 2018, Milwaukee Film will be able to realize this vision further on a year round scale as they will officially operate Milwaukee’s historic Oriental Theatre. The goal is to grow both the Milwaukee Film Festival as well as expand the organization’s institutional reach by providing great cinema year-round.

What do you do as a volunteer?

I’m on teams to volunteer during the festival and during the rest of the year. There are roles at the Box Office, Education Screenings, Hospitality, Member Screenings, Office, Panels, Special Events and Theatre Operations.

How long have you been a volunteer?

I have volunteered for Milwaukee Film for at least ten years. I’ve volunteered my whole life beginning when I was a grade school student. We used to sing and visit Veteran’s Hospital and other places during holidays and special occasions. Since my singing is only a little better than my handiwork, I’m surprised I was welcome back.

What surprised you the most about volunteering?

It’s about 99% more fun than working for pay. The people (both staff and participants) who appreciate the time and effort of all the volunteers from Milwaukee Film is more than anyone I know receives from an employer.

What new things have you learned through this volunteer opportunity?

A person can give of themselves and work very hard without noticing that any time has passed.

Has it changed your view of the world in any way? Has it changed your view of the community?

Most definitely. When given the opportunity to view documentaries and foreign films it blows my mind. Milwaukee Film also invites many of the film subjects, writers, producers and directors to their viewings. The panel discussions which follow have been eye-opening, an education that I can’t begin to describe.

I always knew Milwaukee was a hard-working community but to see this first hand in volunteering with so many good people enforces this good view of Milwaukee.

Has volunteering helped you? Has it had benefits for you?

Besides earning things (vouchers, film membership and passes) from Milwaukee Film and even receiving chocolates from one film member, the people I’ve met and friends made are the biggest benefit.

What are you most proud of?

I’ve talked at least half a dozen people into working more hours to earn that membership, or even a pass for the festival.

We host super volunteers at our home who have moved away but come back to volunteer. Our friends Leslie and Roger now live in Stillwater, Minnesota, closer to their children and grandchildren, but love our community of volunteers and return to help out.

Would you recommend volunteering to others? If so, what would you tell them is the benefit they’d get from volunteering?

Definitely, I always recommend this to my friends and family. Besides earning vouchers, memberships, etc., they’ll work with a great staff and make lifelong friends.

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Volunteer with Milwaukee Film: September 28 to October 12

Milwaukee Film volunteers help out in all facets of the organization, including theatre operations, box office, educational screenings, special events, and assisting in the Milwaukee Film office. Volunteers can sign up for as many or as few shifts as they like, though the more hours they volunteer, the greater the benefits. In addition to learning the ins and outs of an internationally acclaimed film festival, volunteering with Milwaukee Film is an excellent way to support the arts in Milwaukee, encourage young and local filmmakers, and get involved in the community.

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Milwaukee Film

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