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!