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Volunteer Appreciation Week 2021: Sharing Your Stories

This year, our volunteer experience has required patience and passion like never before. Each day the VLM staff and our visitors are impressed by the resilience our volunteers have proven through trial and triumph. Our volunteers have served over 17,000 hours since we were able to reopen our doors to the community in June of 2020. Because of their dedication during these times, we appreciate them more than ever. April 18th-April 24th is National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and to show our appreciation for the volunteers we are spotlighting two perspectives of the volunteer experience. 

We interviewed Joel Mabalot, a newer post-college volunteer just learning his way around the museum, and Willard Waples, a senior volunteer who is finishing up his seventh year of service. 

Joel Mabalot | favorite museum friend: Raccoon

Joel Mabalot is a new volunteer, just celebrating his first two months at the Museum. He spends his service days walking the trail and interacting with guests, an aspect of his position that he says is his favorite part of the day. To him, sharing an interest in something with a stranger is one of the most rewarding parts of his volunteer experience. Joel is a Christopher Newport University graduate and spends his time volunteering as a way to connect with the Newport News community. The Museum to him is a “unique spot where you can escape city life. You just don’t expect an outdoor trail. It doesn’t feel like Newport News at the VLM, it feels like nature.” 

Joel’s volunteer experience, albeit short, is one he hopes to continue to grow in. He enjoys being able to bring people to a place to escape the outside, busy world. Joel’s connection to our visitors is one that upholds the VLM mission and strengthens our community. When visiting the museum, you may find Joel near our raccoon friends. Stop in and say hi to experience the best part of the museum: volunteers like Joel. 

Willard Waples | favorite museum friend: Red Wolf

Willard Waples has been volunteering at the Museum for nearly seven years, and with that much experience under his belt, he has plenty of stories to share with guests, staff, and other volunteers alike. He became a member back in 1988 and visited with his family too many times to count. His relationship with the museum grew as the years passed, and eventually, this blossomed into a volunteer position that grants him the opportunity to interact with dozens of visitors a day-which he says is his favorite part of volunteering. An avid wildlife and horticulture enthusiast, Willard dedicates his life–and even his backyard– to propagating native plants, bird watching, and learning about the environment around him. A Master Naturalist, Willard enjoys improving his Newport News community in any way he can, including planting and pruning gardens in several schools in the city. But to Willard, one of the most important contributions to Newport News is the Virginia Living Museum. “A drop of nature in the middle of the city-it’s a fresh breeze of good air,” Willard said about the impact the museum has on him and his community. 

While volunteers like Willard are not hard to come by at the museum, Willard’s personality and passion set him apart from the crowd. His enthusiasm for the VLM mission touches each part of his life. The museum would not mean anything to the community if not for volunteers like Willard who bring our mission to life in every way that they can. When visiting the museum, look out for Willard who will surely share with you an interesting fact about the environment and the animals around you that will change your life.

Joel and Willard’s impact on the museum is immeasurable, and we are in no short supply of volunteers like them. This year, we truly appreciate the hard work, service, and dedication our volunteers have shown throughout the most uncertain times this Museum has seen. With their service, we have been able to deliver the same unmatched experience to our guests visit after visit.


VLM Guest Writer: Marina Organt


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