Jennifer Mell sat at a table in the Mandalay Bay convention center holding a prosthetic hand.
Her tablemate, Alison Huber, tried to put a peg into the hand. It was a necessary part of the hand but it would not fit into the corresponding hole.
Gwen Seeboth puzzled over the instructions. The three Wisconsin natives tried everything they could think of: Should they give it a really good whack? Would that break the hand? Was it defective or were they doing something wrong? Although the directions were clear, they were at a standstill in the assembly of their prosthetic hand.
After consulting with an official troubleshooter, they used a little more force to insert the peg. Nearly an hour after they started this exercise, they had a functional prosthetic hand that would be given to someone in an impoverished area of the world.
“This is incredible,” Seeboth said.
The women were among hundreds of people attending a convention at Mandalay Bay in July. Though their schedules were full of meetings, seminars, networking lunches and more leisurely activities, they took about 90 minutes out of one day to answer the call for volunteers to assemble prosthetic hands.
Such volunteer activities are becoming a common practice at business meetings and conventions across the country, meeting experts say.
It does several things, workshop leader Lain Hensley said. “It gives the employees something to feel good about and a way to contribute to their community, it provides training and it gives the company something they can hang on their wall.”
Hensley is the co-owner of Odyssey Teams, a motivational company that specializes in leadership and team-building skills. As he spoke, evidence of his words could be seen all around the ballroom at Mandalay Bay. People who had never met before interacted and helped one another assemble their hands.
They learned how to work together and how to solve problems, Hensley said.
Mell, a meeting planner for a department store, said, “I think it’s impactful. Somewhere in the grand scheme of things, you know that you’ve affected someone’s life.”
In her own work, she’s organized similar functions.
“I do this with all my big conferences,” she said. “It’s team-building for my attendees.”
Volunteering while on vacation in Las Vegas is an unusual activity, but more conventions are offering their attendees just such opportunities. During the AARP convention here in June, hundreds of members convened to complete several volunteer projects. They packed meals for Three Square, a local nonprofit that provides food to the needy.
Lori Hutchison of Dallas accompanied her father to a Torchmark convention earlier this year. While employees attended educational sessions, she joined a group of five others who volunteered for a few hours at Clean the World. The nonprofit recycles hotel soap, shampoo, conditioner and other personal hygiene products and donates them to people who lack them.
The small nonprofit has come to rely on this volunteer effort, said Clean the World founder Shawn Seiper. In 2012, about 35 groups from conventions volunteered to help out in the Las Vegas warehouse.
Interestingly, many of these volunteers don’t have the time to volunteer in their own towns. Work, family and other commitments leave little time for it, volunteers say, so they jump at the chance to do it in Las Vegas. It enriches their time here and casts Sin City in a new light.
“I don’t volunteer as much as I’d like to,” Seeboth said. “But things like this provide the opportunity to give back to the community. It adds a depth and another dimension to the conference.”