So we have 25 fresh, new youth volunteers
, announced a couple weeks ago, and the question before us now is, “What do we do with the UFO in our backyard?”
Let me back up…
Over 80 wonderful young people applied for our Youth Volunteer Program this winter. In an intense interview process, we ask them a variety of questions. Some questions are meant to show their communication skills. Some questions show us their historic skills. My favorite interview question, however, was a funny one: “If a flying saucer landed in your backyard, what’s the first thing you’d say to the alien?”
This question was meant to set the kids at ease by making them laugh, but it turned out to be one of our most profound. Most kids wanted to ask the alien, “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here?” Perfectly natural. Some would run away screaming. Also natural. But a handful of kids showed guest service potential:
• “I’d introduce myself and shake his hand. Or hands.”
• “I’d learn his language or invent a translator like on ‘Star Trek.’”
• “I’d give the alien ice cream.”
The faces of some kids lit up as they imagined everything they could learn from an alien:
• “I’d ask how to drive the flying saucer and how old you had to be on his planet to have a license.”
• “I’d want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
With this silly little UFO question, I see in our applicants guest service skills and enthusiasm to learn from others. I also see the challenge before me. In the month and a half before Opening Day (March 31), somewhere between training, costumes and policies, we still have to deal with this UFO in the backyard. Because the most important thing I can teach these youth is how to deal with “the other.”
“The other” may be a guest. The shy little 10 year old will have to smile at unfamiliar guests on the historic grounds and invite them to try an activity. Figuratively, the youth will “offer them ice cream and learn to speak their language.”
“The other” may be a new uncomfortable experience, like picking up after a goat in Animal Encounters.
“The other” may be a different worldview. The youth volunteer hears stories from a Lenape Indian, takes on the role of a fugitive slave in Follow the North Star
, looks at the Civil War from both sides or literally steps into the shoes of a character in 1836.
In the end, I hope when my youth and our guests come to Conner Prairie, they echo this answer about the UFO: “I want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
If you’re interested in learning more about what our youth volunteers are up to be sure to ‘Like’ us on Facebook!
Posted: 2/28/2012 1:57:23 PM
| with 0 comments
Linda Flanagan - Guest Blogger: Conner Prairie Volunteer
It is a privilege to be able to share one of my favorite places!!!
I have visited Conner Prairie for many, many years as a parent, Girl Scout leader, preschool and elementary school teacher and as a grandparent. Our family enjoys the educational value that the Interactive Park brings to connect the past to the present day. Our family has spent many times together in Prairie Town, at the Prairie Tykes
programs, the inside and outside activities that are available for all ages, the summer evenings at Symphony on the Prairie and most recently the Civil War Journey
area. It is always at the top of the list for favorite places to visit each summer when out of town grandchildren come visit us for a week.
Several years ago I decided that Conner Prairie had provided such excellent learning experiences for us that I began volunteering. Since I was a full time teacher I was not flexible to be on a regular schedule as a volunteer
. Jody and Arlene, from the volunteer staff, were able to provide suggestions of ways I could give my time on weekends and for special programs to share my enthusiasm and help visitors experience a positive day and be eager to return.
My husband and local grandchildren, who have become family volunteers, have ‘caught the fever’ and regularly join the other volunteers for many of the Conner Prairie activities.
One of our very favorite volunteer activities includes Follow the North Star
-helping guests experience slavery and the Underground Railroad. Michelle Evans, Operations Manager, created the program and its accurate, authentic representation of life as slaves, who escape and become fugitives working their way to freedom. This program has received National Acclaim.
Making and renewing friendships with Conner Prairie Staff members, other volunteers, the youth, and regular Conner Prairie visitors keep us coming back to eagerly share experiences with guests. The Interactive Park is one of the best dollar value venues for families in the central Indiana area. What new opportunities will we find this year? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
If you are interested in exploring volunteer opportunities at Conner Prairie, please visit the Volunteers
page and fill out an application!
Posted: 2/24/2012 10:24:27 AM
| with 0 comments
Sarah Morin - Youth Manager
So it’s the time of year I love and dread the most in my job: picking new youth volunteers. As Youth Experience Manager, aka the Kid Wrangler, I am in charge of 100 volunteers
, ages 10-18. (Secret: I have the best job at Conner Prairie. Kids are funnier than adults. Adults never ask you how long it takes to microwave their socks.)
So the deadline has passed, and now I’m sitting with over 70 applications in my lap, trying to decide between great kids and even better kids. I’ve come up with a list of The Top 10 Things I Love About the Youth Volunteer Application Process:
1. Infectious enthusiasm.
2. 10-year-old, 4’8” applicants who tell me, “I’ve wanted to work at Conner Prairie ever since I was little.”
3. Kids who come to their interview in business suits. Spiffy!
4. We adults know what interviewers want to hear. Kids by and large tell it like it is. “What would your teachers tell us about you?” They might say very honestly, “That I can’t sit still and I get in trouble for talking too much in class.” If adults gave brutally honest interview answers like this, wouldn’t the business world save a lot of time?
5. Creativity. For example, this year I asked the applicants to write an essay about starting a restaurant. Their restaurants included everything from time travel to dog waiters. The menus ranged from French dishes in curlicue fonts to theme foods with bad puns (Lord of the Onion Rings).
6. Meeting kids who really want to help others.
7. Kids who haven’t figured out how to shake hands yet. “Hmm, is it my left hand or right hand, and how tightly do I squeeze, and do I stand or sit?” Is this a lost art? Or maybe kids are just stunned that I’m more interested in them than their parents, so I offer my hand to the kid first. After all, I’m not hiring their parents.
8. Walking kids to and from the interview room. It’s amazing how a kid who gets nervous and clams up sitting across the table from us will suddenly turn into a chatterbug as soon as the interview’s over and the pressure is lifted.
9. Finding out what kids are into these days. Literature is not dead – kids still read books. Books referred to most over my 9 years of interviewing: Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter.
10. Diamond-hunting. You hire an adult for the qualities they already possess. You hire a kid for both the talents they have and their potential.Kids are like ore – I love finding the glint of precious stone in each of them, and wondering how a few years of refining at Conner Prairie will reveal the gem within.
And my least favorite part of the application process…. Picking between them!
Posted: 1/18/2012 12:25:42 PM
| with 0 comments
Krystyna Karr - Conner Prairie Volunteer
In past years, Jane Hetrick, a former Conner Prairie employee, encouraged me to consider volunteering
, telling me that with my interests, it would be a good match. She knew how important service is to me and how volunteering has been a critical component in my life. With a background in education and a history of working with families and children, the opportunities available were appealing, and as I could be selective of the events and the positions, it would provide flexibility and avoid over scheduling.
When my schedule opened a little over a year ago, I completed the process; getting started was easy, one application, a background check, and orientation. Arlene and Jody at Conner Prairie made the process seamless, and when that first volunteer flier arrived, it was Headless Horseman
sign-up time. Taking advantage of the descriptions listed, I signed up for a few different positions so I could get some variety. After that event, I realized what Jane had been telling me.
It was a wonderful experience from that first day. I was blessed to meet people who had been volunteering for years, and they welcomed me openly. The staff provided clear instruction, and while they were “old pros” at what to expect, they, too, respected my newness. The children’s anticipation of the hayrides, families bouncing at the gates, and the stories circulating of what to expect resonated. After that, signing up was not a question but more of, “How can I help?” As long as my work and personal schedule allowed, I decided to give as much time as I could. I have been fortunate to assist with special events (Follow the North Star
, Headless Horseman, Civil War Days
, Symphony on the Prairie, Country Fair
, Conner Prairie by Candlelight
) other ongoing positions (school groups, new member orientation, free days, opening of Civil War Journey Raid on Indiana
), and, of course, the Conner Prairie Store
To say that I enjoyed one over another would be a lie, but I am not a believer in small roles. Each one has unique qualities, and the guests that choose to come to the different events make it worthwhile. Interacting with guests is more than just part of what I expected to do. Hearing how far they have travelled, learning about their lives, and sharing in their experience on the grounds/at the event, only make me want to help provide them the best time possible. And the more time I spend on the grounds, the easier it is to serve. The attention to detail in historical accuracy, the passion and knowledge of the staff, and the opportunities for the guests continue to impress me.
I mean it when I tell people that CP is a labor of love, and I seldom have met a staff person who acts as if this is just a job. I am ashamed to say I think I get more out of Conner Prairie than it gets from me! While other volunteer opportunities have crossed my path, I know where I will continue to serve. Conner Prairie can have my time and service as long as they want it.
Posted: 12/13/2011 3:04:06 PM
| with 0 comments
Guest Blogger: Sally Chalex - Alliance Member
The approach of the holiday season brings the filling of my mailbox with various charitable requests. I donate to my favorite groups and I appreciate the address labels, notepads and magnets of Thanks that they return. But I always wonder, when donating to a fundraiser, where is my money really going? It’s often frustrating: Did that charity work really make a difference? Did my “pennies a day” donation really help an organization grow? What contribution can all this volunteer work really provide?
This year I joined the Conner Prairie Alliance
and now I see the direct product of my philanthropy every day -- it’s right across the parking lot within the confines of Conner Prairie Interactive History Museum!
This is my first year volunteering at The Apple Store
and I have been very impressed. Though the Alliance members are all donating their time, The Apple Store is no slapped-together fundraiser. We sell quality products, food and gifts and turn all the profits over to the museum. Through the careful, detailed planning of experienced committees, The Apple Store blazes through the scant two months it’s open and turns a profit that makes my head spin.
Through the dedicated time of the Alliance, The Apple Store raised over $90,000 in profit last year. That’s astounding! By selling apples?! Yes, apples, but mostly fantastically yummy caramel apples that people adore. We’re open through October 30th so make sure you come by to get yours!
It’s an autumn tradition, and visitors plan their calendars around our September opening and often lament our “too soon” closing in October. Many customers stop by as a part of their Conner Prairie tour, though I’ve met many who just swing in to buy our treats! I love the idea that everyone who purchases something from us automatically donates to Conner Prairie -- whether they’re members or just drive-bys! I explained all this to a visitor last weekend and he agreed that, “Eating treats for a good cause is a charity I can get behind!”
So here’s a donation that I know goes to a good cause: my Time as an Alliance volunteer. I see the fruits (Ha! Sorry.) of my laboriously dipped caramel apples when I take my kids up in the 1859 Balloon Voyage. I love that my “pennies a day” donation of Time built the River Crossing Play Area. I know my volunteer work at The Apple Store is an integral part of keeping Conner Prairie fresh and thriving. I know that as a member of the Conner Prairie Alliance, I am making a difference.
Posted: 10/21/2011 4:53:02 PM
Conner Prairie Alliance
| with 0 comments
Welcome to Conner Prairie
Nature Lovers: Come Bioblitz with Us!
Why a Soldier Returns to Civil War Days
See, Feel, Smell the Civil War
Our Mother’s Day Tradition is Conner Prairie