Volunteer Interpretation

It’s been nearly a year since I retired from the Florida Park Service. Part of my job was as the volunteer coordinator for my park. I admit I had mixed feelings about volunteer interpreters. Several times I put more effort into training a volunteer than I got out of them, but others made up for the difference and overall I had a positive experience.

I always made it a point to respond quickly to offers of volunteerism. I remember one time when a message came in at 6PM on a Monday afternoon. I worked four ten hours days a week, Friday through Monday, so this email came in just before my three days off. Instead of staying late I decided to wait, even though I know people often do not expect workers to be off in the middle of a week. For the next three days I was bothered that I had blown it off and answered first thing on Friday morning. I didn’t understand when the volunteer thanked me for my prompt response. I understand now!

This summer I was planning to be a volunteer interpreter. If you haven’t visited volunteer.gov take a look. I’ve been dreaming of the day when I could pick and choose from all the cool positions offered there. As soon as I returned from NIW last November I began my search in earnest. My essential criteria were I had to be someplace cool and the  job had to excite me. I found four postings that were for places I wanted to be but the jobs weren’t quite what I was looking for (mostly too much or all of the time at the desk). I emailed each contact person to see if there might be flexibility in the interpretive responsibilities. It was two weeks before the first reply came back, three weeks for the second, and the other two have still not replied.

While waiting to hear from them some other positions were posted which were right up my alley. In all I submitted five applications. All sent a robot response immediately, and then the waiting began. One answered right away, checked my references and said yes, only to back out the next day because she realized she needed a couple for manpower reasons. Two weeks into the process another one expressed interest but then the coordinator was on vacation for three weeks – I expected when she returned I’d get that job so I wasn’t too worried. A month after applying one of the ones I hadn’t heard from reposted the position. That bothered me, it felt like they didn’t want me and had not even bothered to say no thanks. I emailed the coordinator asking why, and it turned out there had been a personnel change and she hadn’t looked at the applications already submitted. A few days later I had that position; I’ll be a coastal wildlife interpreter at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and I couldn’t be happier.

But the process still bothers me. Four of  the volunteer coordinators never responded, and the average response from the other coordinators was over two weeks. If you are a volunteer coordinator, think about what it says about your organization if you ignore a volunteer. Respond promptly – especially if it is me! And if you have cool interp positions available, get them up on volunteer.gov so I can hear about them!

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