Honoring the Homestead’s Volunteers During National Volunteer Week

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In his proclamation issued last Friday for National Volunteer Week, which began yesterday and continues through Saturday, President Joe Biden declared that “during National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the millions of Americans who volunteer and encourage more to follow their path.  Every American has something to give.  No matter your age, background, or where you come from, you can have an impact through service.” In addition, the president observed that “by helping others, volunteers also help themselves.  They learn new skills, expand their professional networks, connect with neighbors, and experience the satisfaction that comes from serving a larger cause.”

At the Homestead, we couldn’t agree more. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, we can’t possible overstate the vital contributions our volunteers make in so many ways in helping to make the museum the truly special place that it is. Most people associate museum volunteers with docents giving tours to the general public or to school groups, and we are, naturally, very grateful to our corps of dedicated docents who share the stories of the Workman and Temple families in the context of greater Los Angeles. Yet, we have many who contribute in a myriad of other ways.

Volunteer Trus Thies has helped out with many events, in our front office, and with many suggestions for improving what the Homestead does.

For example, our Collections Care Group has long been important for the support of the management of collection of historic artifacts, the installation and removal of exhibits in La Casa Nueva, our 1920s historic house, cleaning and care of that structure and the Workman House, and other work. Occasionally, volunteers will work on specialized tasks involving the cataloging and conservation of objects, reorganization of our storage areas and other projects.

We also have a cadre of volunteers who provide important assistance with our special events, helping with performers and demonstrators, family craft areas, greeting of and wayfinding for visitors, providing event and museum information, and much else. The featured image, for example, shows Marie Wang helping with a special event craft activity. Others staff our front office when our paid staff are not available and provide help to visitors who come in for tours, to book site uses such as photography, or take reservations for programs; while some take museum literature to community facilities such as libraries, senior centers and the like to promote our public offerings.

Stanley Oishi always has a warm smile and a friendly greeting for visitors at special events and has been known to break out his ukulele a time or two, as well!

Volunteers have also been very helpful in serving as mentors for their colleagues who are in training to be docents, have served on committees to improve museum offerings and services, and led or co-led programs including our Non-Fiction Book Club, genealogy workshops, and others. Many of them have provided suggestions for better serving our public and use their backgrounds and experiences for these helpful recommendations, whether for our public and school tours, the management of our collections, our special events, and in many other ways. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that all of us who are on the paid staff have profited greatly from working with our volunteers because of what they bring to their service to the Homestead.

Another very important attribute of our volunteers is that they want to serve their community and, in doing so, they help to build a sense of community at the museum. Even something as mundane and technical as our annual Safety and Security Workshop, in which we review our detailed program for providing for the safety of our visitors and our staff and the security of the museum and its collection, becomes a fun morning as we enjoy each other’s company.

As a teacher and mom, Behanie Lafond is plenty busy, but continues to find time to give tours and help out at events.

The social aspect of volunteering is something we value highly and, among the many challenges posed by the pandemic has been making sure we keep in touch with our volunteers. For example, since 2016 we’ve had a “State of the Homestead” meeting each July to discuss current and future projects, programs, events and other aspects of the museum’s operations, but we had to reconfigure it into a virtual meeting.

Knowing how important it was to have that social connection, we have had two other meetings with volunteers since then, in October and February, and are having another one this Saturday. We are hopeful that we can have the 2021 “State of the Homestead” in person, though when will, of course, depend on the evolving situation with the pandemic.

Like Bethanie, Ernesto Castro juggles work and a family while continuing to volunteer at the Homestead as a docent.

We’ve been developing plans for what we hope will be a gradual reopening, with outdoor-only self-guided tours to start with and then partial indoor tours as we continue to move towards a full reopening. We’re excited to talk to our amazing volunteers about how they can rejoin us when that time comes, because, obviously, we would not be able to do what we do without the nearly seventy volunteers who give of their time and talents to make the Homestead the success that it is.

So, this National Volunteer Week we salute the Homestead Museum’s dedicated and devoted volunteer staff and look very much forward to working with them to serve our visitors on public and school tours, at special events, for lectures and workshops, in caring for our collection and in other ways. As the president’s proclamation noted, volunteers “have an impact through service” and those of us who work at the museum can fully and happily attest to that!

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