I’ve spent a LOT of time writing about visitors on this blog. Which makes sense, I suppose, because that’s the reason I created it. After all, without visitors, there would be no need for volunteers. Or Rangers, I suppose. And they do provide so much material. SO. MUCH.
Visitor interaction is a huge part of my job as a volunteer, but to me, it is actually not the most important part. I love spending time at the Monument and Memorials, but even that is not what I consider the most important part of volunteering.
The number one goal I have every time I put on my yellow polo and hat and step onto a site or into a golf cart for a special event is to assist the Rangers and help them accomplish what they need to accomplish. Or to make the day a little easier for them by helping answer the unending litany of repeat questions we get every. single. day. Or to let them take a dinner break.
I’m not there to take anyone’s job. Every place I’ve ever volunteered has had the most amazing paid staff, but there is just never enough money to pay all the people you need. So, they bring on volunteers. I don’t know how the National Park Service could pull off July 4th on the National Mall without volunteers. I’m sure they’d find a way to do it, but they would all be exhausted and need a long vacation after it was over.
I take my direction from the Rangers with whom I work on any given day. If they are OK with me doing something, that’s all that matters to me. If they prefer to sit in the center chair at the counter at the World War II Memorial contact station, that is where I allow them to sit. If they prefer to work the door at WAMO, I work the line, or vice versa. Regardless of whether I’ve been on the Mall twice as long, or three times as long, or ten times as long as the Ranger with whom I’m working, I defer to their preferences.
That said, I am routinely given amazing opportunities by every Ranger I have the pleasure of working with. They allow me to run the elevator at WAMO (when it works), work the WAMO door or the line as I please, spend time in the Memorials answering visitor questions, walk around for a bit taking pictures, drive a golf cart on closed roads on July 4th, join the team for setup and event logistics at countless events, and for some reason they allow me to come back the next day.
It’s interesting working with Rangers in a place like DC. There is such a mix of people and experiences, and I never get enough of their stories of where they’ve worked and other things they’ve done. A lot of them aspire to work at other parks. Most of them miss a park at which they used to work. But they all put their hearts and souls into the time they spend on the National Mall.
I’m very lucky to be able to work with them. They have taught me so much, they challenge me to learn more and more about the National Mall specifically and our American history generally, and they allow me to be a small part of their world. I get a lot of the perks they get and they always make me feel welcome. Well, most of the time anyway. 😉
So, to all the Rangers I work with now, and all those with whom I have worked over the past 11+ years, I say thank you for putting up with me. For letting me be part of your conversations, for including me in events, for making me laugh until my stomach hurts, and for sharing your sites with me. Oh, and for teaching me how to point at things without offending people. You’re the finest bunch of people I have ever had the honor of being associated with, and I wouldn’t change a thing!