April 9, 2020
The Virginia Living Museum, like many other museums, restaurants, and public areas throughout the country, has closed its doors for the time being due to COVID-19. Naturally, we miss the constant activity provided by our guests and, especially, our volunteers. However, this momentary pause in our lives has enabled us to take the time to reflect on our volunteers and the incredible in-demand services that they provide.
It’s no secret that the Virginia Living Museum would be lost without its volunteers. From teaching guests about the horseshoe crabs at the Touch Tank, to pouring wine at Bacchus and Oyster Roast, to helping care for our animals, volunteers have a hand in every aspect of what happens throughout the museum.
With more than 400 active volunteers, there is no shortage of people whose stories we could tell. Each and every volunteer has their own reason for choosing to share their gifts with the VLM. Each volunteer has their own favorite aspect of volunteering at the VLM, and each volunteer has their own reasons why they continue giving their time, shift after shift.
Speaking of our volunteers, did you know that an opossum has 50 teeth? This is one of Barbara Howell’s favorite facts to share with visitors when they visit the museum. Barbara is one of our most dedicated volunteers. After retiring from her full-time career, she wanted something to keep her busy. While looking for something to fill her time, she remembered visiting the VLM and became interested in becoming a volunteer. Since her start, she has stuck by the VLM through many years of growth, including the move from the old to the new building that took place in 2004. Since that time, she has experienced the coming and going of various exhibits, seen the development of new programs, and interacted with countless volunteers and staff members.
The VLM has certainly been through some major changes since Barbara first began volunteering. “The biggest change outside was the boardwalk above the animals so they could be seen rather than a dirt path beside the animal dens. You were close to the deer and turkeys and could touch the deer as they licked the fence, but the new wooden path is easier to walk on and more protective of the animals. The large fish tank in the new building is fabulous, as are all the other exhibits,” Barbara said.
When asked why she has remained at the museum for so long, she said, “Every day I volunteer is different and keeps up my interest. Sometimes the animals are active and do interesting things, such as the otters swimming or the opossum gathering leaves in his tail. The visitors are fun to see and talk with. Some are interested in hearing new and different information about an animal and some talk about their home, or the trip they are on, or other personal subjects. The children are always fun to talk with.”
Guest interaction overall is Barbara’s favorite part of volunteering. She loves seeing visitors’ faces, both young and old, light up when they learn something new while enjoying the wonder of the animals. Once, she was able to watch a great blue heron “fishing” in the stream near the gray fox. Immediately, she called to an adult group that was close by, to share the experience with them. Together, they watched as the great blue heron caught and ate three fish. “Seeing the adults’ faces and smiles of wonder was a joy,” Barbara recalled.
Outside of volunteering at the VLM, Barbara continues her community involvement through volunteering at the Langley Air Force Base hospital. She also enjoys playing hand chimes with a music group, gardening, cooking, hiking through the woods, and exercising. With everything else going on in her life, we are extremely thankful that Barbara finds the time to help the VLM! The VLM is extremely proud of the work that Barbara, along with our army of other volunteers, do for us each and every day. Without our volunteers, both new and veterans alike, we would not be able to educate nearly as many people about their local environment and the world around them. We are extremely lucky to have dedicated volunteers who are just as passionate about the museum’s mission and educating the public about conservation as we are.
Finally, a piece of advice from Barbara. If you are a newer volunteer, she recommends finding something that really interests you at the museum, so that you can pass that interest on to the visitors. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, “give it a try; you’re sure to like it!”
Remember to wash your hands and stay safe! We here in Volunteer Services can’t wait to welcome both guests and volunteers into the VLM again.
Guest Blogger: Julianna Barlas, CNU Bonner Scholar