Super Bowl volunteer

Kaaren Grabianowski at one of her trainings to become a Super Bowl volunteer in the Twin Cities last year. She'll be among several Mankato area people helping put on the event, part of a 10,000 strong volunteer effort. Photo courtesy of Kaaren Grabianowski

MANKATO — The Mankato area should be well represented among the 10,000 volunteers pitching in at Super Bowl 52 activities when festivities swing through Minnesota.

Whether they’re diehard Vikings fans, passionate about representing their home state or hoping to pick up tips on how to plan events on such a grand scale, three of them said they’re anticipating being part of the country’s biggest sporting spectacle.

Kaaren Grabianowski, by day the visitor experience director at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, saw firsthand how willing Minnesotans were to volunteer when she helped screen helpers in August and September.

“I can tell you when we were doing the interviews with the volunteers it was so fun because people were so fun and upbeat,” she said.

She’ll continue her volunteer work in the week and day leading up to the big game on Feb. 4. She expects to greet visitors and answer questions at several events while attending others with family.

Her daughter, Ally, a Mankato West freshman, is one of 10 finalists statewide for a healthy game day snack challenge. She’ll be gunning for first prize with her stuffed red peppers with quinoa, corn and black beans topped cheese in the Wednesday, Jan. 31, event. The grand prize is $25,000 from the Paul Newman Foundation for a charity of her choice.

Even apart from the family connection to Super Bowl events, Grabianowski said she jumped at the chance to get involved. It’ll get even better, the die-hard Vikings fan and season ticket holder said, if the home team advances — the Vikings would need to win Sunday in the NFC championship to make it.

“I’m just really excited the Super Bowl is here in Minnesota this year, and it’s obviously great the Vikings are still in the running for that,” she said. “I’ve worked in events for 20 years, so I was really excited to be a part of the experience and showcase Minnesota.”

Grabianowski will share more about her volunteer role during a lunch and learn event Wednesday, Jan. 24, at the VINE Adult Community Center.

Linda Kilander, a retired Mankato Area Public Schools principal, had her latest volunteer training Sunday after an orientation last fall. She expects to be posted in Nicollet Mall answering questions and serving as eyes on the ground.

Volunteers are trained not only to welcome and answer visitor questions, but also to notice signs of criminal activity like human trafficking. Kilander said the volunteers aren’t asked to step in, as there should be a substantial police presence to report any wrongdoing to throughout the week.

Although not volunteering, eight Mankato police officers will provide security in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week. The officers will serve on their days off and will be paid by the Super Bowl Host Committee, said Mankato Public Safety Cmdr. Jeremy Clifton. The officers do not yet know what duties they will be assigned or where they will be stationed.

Being retired, Kilander said she enjoys lending her time to community events. The Super Bowl doesn’t come around often, so she figured it’d be fun to take part in the novelty.

“I’ve volunteered for the Mankato Marathon before,” she said. “It’s just kind of electric at an event like that, so when they put out a call for volunteers, I thought I wanted to be part of that.”

In contrast, Visit Mankato President Anna Thill sees volunteering at the Super Bowl as a chance to learn about all it takes to put on such a huge event. She was first on the Super Bowl Advisory Committee before signing on as a Crew 52 volunteer.

“Really for me it’s a reconnaissance opportunity to be in the middle of a huge event and see all of the planning come together,” she said.

It also allows her to be an ambassador of sorts for the state. The goal is to show first-time visitors all the state has to offer in the hopes they might return again, she said. 

“All of us volunteers are meant to understand we’re ambassadors to the state, to be warm and welcoming to try get a bounce-back visit,” she said. 

Being part of Visit Mankato means Thill is used to working with the Vikings during their annual residencies at Minnesota State University for training camp, which means she too is hopeful the purple will be playing on Super Bowl Sunday.

Mankato, after all, would’ve helped them get there, she said.

“We trained them here, so if they’re the champs, we can say we trained them,” she said.

Free Press Staff Writer Kristine Goodrich contributed to this story.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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