Celebrating National Volunteer Month
Tuesday, March 28th 2023
Image above: Volunteers take a break from repotting plants to enjoy some snacks and good company outside of the Boyd Horticultural Center.
April is National Volunteer Month! In this blog, Historic Columbia's Executive Director Robin Waites explains the important role volunteers play in the organization and why volunteering at Historic Columbia makes a significant impact on your community, and yourself. Then, we hear stories from some of our dedicated volunteers about why they choose to share their time and talents with HC and those we serve.
Anyone interested in joining our volunteer efforts can learn more here. Just fill out the brief application and we will reach out to you soon!
The Gift of Time
By: Robin Waites, Historic Columbia
When I first joined the staff at Historic Columbia in 2002, one of my jobs was to resuscitate the print newsletter – yes, we were only doing print newsletters 20 years ago. I was looking for stories and visited the Robert Mills Site to take photographs of the property – yes, I was using a film camera. I came upon a small group of folks working at the Henderson Street entrance. Members of the Iris Garden Club: Pat Setzer, Margaret Wilson, and a house museum guide, Bill Carson, were installing shrubs and flowers on both sides of the gate. As this was the first impression of visitors to Historic Columbia, this team of volunteers took it upon themselves to spruce up the place.
This early encounter was not an anomaly, but an example of the level of engagement and ownership of HC volunteers in the early 2000s. With a full-time staff of six, volunteers were involved in every aspect of the Historic Columbia operation: giving tours, assisting with the shop, cleaning and decorating the house museums, coordinating and working public programs, assisting with public relations, and governing. As an organization that was established in 1961 and run by volunteers, this was a natural progression.
With the considerable growth and change over 20 years, the volunteer program has also shifted. While the day-to-day operations are managed by staff, volunteers remain key to the success of Historic Columbia. Still today, interpretive guides serve as key ambassadors for HC and the house museum experience. Not only do they share the stories of the sites, but they interact on a personal level with our guests who are visiting from out of area. They are often the face, voice, and personality of our organization.
This responsibility is akin to the work of members of the board of trustees, although board members’ ambassadorship is more often with the community such as elected officials, donors, and corporate executives, board members not only govern the organization by represent us to the broader public locally. The board of trustees leadership is further supported by the HC Advisory Council and the Palladium Board, the latter of which coordinates some of HC’s most engaging programs and successful fundraising events.
Since the redevelopment of the 14 acres of gardens, volunteers have become central to the success of the endeavor to interpret 200 years of landscape history. The “garden crew” who commit two days/week, several hours to weed, plant, rake, and tend, enables our small staff to keep up with an otherwise unmanageable amount of work. Similar to that small crew of volunteers in 2002, this group is committed to ensuring that visitors to HC have an experience that leaves them impressed and amazed from the moment they enter the gates of any property.
While we have metrics for volunteer hours to quantify the contributions of each of these groups and the individuals within, this data does not do justice to the impact they have on the organization. We simply would not be who we are today without the generations of people who have and continue to support Historic Columbia. On this month of Volunteer Appreciation – we acknowledge these gifts and say – Thank You.
Get to know some of our Volunteers!
Margie has long been a volunteer at Historic Columbia. Learn more about what compelled her to join us initially, and what keeps her coming back.
"In 2008 I retired from the Richland Library where I had been Coordinator of Information Services which included overseeing the Local History Room. We had a working relationship with Historic Columbia who often provided us with materials for display. My undergraduate degree was in History and, even though I grew up in the up state, I became very interested in the history of Columbia and the midlands. All of this is to say that when I retired and was looking for a volunteer position, HCF seemed to be a no brainer. I attended the orientation for docents and was a little apprehensive about learning tours for 3 houses, however, it didn’t take long to feel comfortable. When the Woodrow Wilson Family home was renovated and repurposed as the Museum of the Reconstruction Era, I learned that tour as well. I appreciate that docents are kept informed of HCF activities and changes with a monthly meeting and that we often have the opportunity to go on field trips to other historic locations in the area.
I have enjoyed the experience of meeting a variety of visitors from all over the country and the world like the German couple who turned to each other and smiled when I described the Hampton-Preston mansion built in 1818 as one of the oldest structures remaining in Columbia or the lady who was visiting her daughter and wanted to tour MORE because her family was Armenian and believed that following WWI Woodrow Wilson had tried to maintain Armenia’s status as an independent country. And of course there are the school children who often ask about ghosts and, although I don’t really believe in them, I have to admit to getting a very eerie feeling one day while looking for a costume in the attic of HP…
I have had the great pleasure of working with and getting to know many docents and staff members over the years and I continue to volunteer because the experience constantly feeds my curiosity and my interest in history."
Spend as little as nine hours per month or volunteer each week with us fulfilling our mission to nurture, support and protect the historical and cultural heritage of Columbia through programs of education, advocacy and preservation.