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Volunteers needed as in-state tourism sees boost

Volunteer Docent Carol Steinhagen gives a tour of The Castle museum in Marietta Monday to individuals visiting from Illinois. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Out-of-state travel may have fallen off the 2020 vacation plans due to coronavirus, but as local museums continue scheduling tours with travelers coming from around Ohio, the need for volunteers has increased.

“We’ve had a lot of (inquiries) from Ohio; Dayton, Akron, Cincinnati, Circleville, Medina, Middletown, Cleveland,” said Shannon Folts, visitor experience director for the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau as she read through this week’s records. “Then also Virginia, Illinois… We’re hearing from a lot of people that are just more comfortable driving to a small town rather than a big city, or are making day trips and calling ahead and asking what the health regulations are here, asking when are the busy days and the light ones and what the protocols are for scheduling tours.”

Folts said the silver lining amid the pandemic is that there is more focus in Ohio tourism on the small town, shop local/support local movement.

“A lot of people want to stay in the state because they feel safer in the state or a lot can’t leave the state because their jobs (would) require them to quarantine (upon return),” she explained.

But while this means an uptick in tour scheduling at places like Campus Martius and The Castle, it also means there’s a greater need for volunteers.

“We already see some drop off when the college isn’t in session in a regular summer when more people are usually traveling, but now, too with the majority of individuals who were regularly volunteering that are in that most at-risk age group, businesses and museums need you to rethink volunteering,” said Scott Britton, executive director for The Castle.

Working in the welcome center at The Castle Monday, Hattie Clarke explained that visitors are asked to call ahead to schedule a tour on any of the six days the museum is open, The Castle is closed Wednesdays.

“That way we can make sure one of the docents we have is here during the time to take the tour or if one of the staff needs to give the tour,” she said. “Six is the maximum for families or travel groups and we’re not putting groups together.”

That separation, Britton explained has increased the reliance on cross-training and the volunteers still giving tours.

But, he noted, there are other ways to volunteer.

“Whether that’s sewing masks for your museums or working on landscaping and keeping a distance, these are all resume builders too,” Britton said, noting that the museum will take volunteers as young as high-school-aged students.

One perk, he also noted for students participating in online courses through a college or full-remote high school academies, would be the opportunity to still gather work experience while at home or unable to work in more restricted areas.

“When you go into the workforce, they’re looking for these skill sets, too,” he said. “Can you be dependable and show up reliably, can you have those conversation skills.”

Other skills able to be highlighted, depending on how one volunteers, could include compliance measures with health recommendations and training skills.

“I still get past volunteers from five or six years ago that will then call asking for a letter of recommendation,” Britton added. “Employers look for that, too, this is work experience.”

Britton recommended contacting R.S.V.P., the senior volunteering group coordinated out of the O’Neill Center on Fourth Street, or programs like the McDonough Leadership Center at Marietta College to determine which nonprofits and businesses may need volunteers due to decline in the availability of others during the pandemic.

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