Wait, You Do This For Free?!

My son giving a house tour to a guest. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

As a docent and a “time ambassador” (more about that in a later post), I go out of my way to let visitors know that the vast majority of the people they interact with when they visit Historic Locust Grove are volunteers.  When my family first started volunteering there about eight years ago, there were four full time staff members and a handful of part time staff. As I am writing this, there are now six full time staff members. Add in the part time and seasonal staff and the total number of people working there is still less than 20.  This small, but mighty group of people obviously play important roles and we are all thankful for what they do day in and day out make the site what it is.

Still, I often let guests know that most of us are out there donating our time.  Now, I’m not angling for a pat on the back when I share that particular tidbit. The simple truth is, that like many historic sites, Locust Grove could not function without a healthy volunteer corps. I want guests to know that so much is accomplished simply because a group of people that love history in general and the site in particular help make it happen. As Locust Grove’s program director, Brian Cushing, has said, “the site exists because the community wants it to.”  

My children helping Locust Grove Program Director, Brian Cushing, plant corn in the garden.

One of the great things about volunteering is that there’s something for everyone.  A small sampling of the ways people help out at the Grove includes gardening, working with school field trips, baking, cleaning, working in the gift shop, demonstrating historic trades, directing traffic, and working concessions. Those are just a portion of the roles people fill.  Within my own family, we have sewed, researched, taught historic games, docented, created student programing, been on trash patrol, helped with the admissions gate, taken photos, and participated as costumed interpreters, among other things. And we have some pretty fun adventures I am looking forward to sharing.

Since researchers tend to love some concrete facts and numbers, I have a few to share with you. According to Mary Beth Williams, the curator of Collections & Education, 131 volunteers recorded a total of 11,822 volunteer hours in 2017. This is the part where I direct you to the word “recorded.”  The truth is that sometimes, people forget to record their hours which means the real number is actually higher.

But let’s run with the official number for a minute.  It varies by state, but Kentucky values volunteer work at $21.38 an hour.  If you do the math, that comes to an in-kind contribution with a value of $252,754.  Those hours really add up!

My daughter demonstrating the historic trade of butter making.

It’s not just the monetary value that’s important, either.  Being able to show volunteer and community support can help a site secure grants and other outside funding that help make programing possible.  The more volunteers and hours logged, the easier it is to secure funding. And that finding can be critical. I’m going to let you in a little secret about why that’s so important.  Most historic sites don’t get government funding. Many run on a very tight budget and depend on donations to keep the doors open. For some sites, a grant could make or break their ability to offer certain kinds of programing to the public.

Keeping all of this in mind, I can’t encourage people enough to consider volunteering for an organization that is near and dear to their hearts.  Obviously, historic sites are my soft spot, but it can be your local science center, a museum, the zoo, an arts program, or a myriad other worthy causes.  It’s a chance to use your unique skills to make an impact on an organization that’s important to you and get as much, if not more, than what you give.