- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - When it comes to local history, there may be no better bet than the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which has permanent exhibits on the area’s history from the mining days and beyond. That’s a fact many locals know.

What many may not know is volunteers make the museum experience great.

“Moving into summer, we are a small staff of just four,” volunteer coordinator Christina Bruce said. “There’s no way the four of us could possibly keep the museum open all those hours - volunteers are what make the museum run.”

Bruce said they need at least four more volunteers in visitor services for the summer season if things are to run smoothly.

The museum’s summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, though it will be closed during the month of May for replacement of its outdated HVAC system. Museum volunteers contribute more than 2,000 hours a year, Bruce said, “more than the equivalent of another staff member.”

There is always a staff member at the museum to offer assistance if a volunteer doesn’t feel comfortable with a question, and training is provided. A volunteer training will be announced for late May, and volunteers who join after the annual training can learn the ropes one-on-one with Bruce.

Curator Marjie Hamburger said her goal with volunteer recruitment is “connecting the community to the museum and Juneau history.”

“We’re often in the shadow of the state museum,” Hamburger said. “But we’re the city museum and we represent the people here, telling their stories.”

Those interested in local stories, history and art might consider volunteering, Bruce and Hamburger suggest.

Many volunteers are longtime Juneau residents, Hamburger said, including Marie Darlin, a born-and-raised Alaskan. Others, Hamburger said, may have been in Juneau for less time, but are excited to be in the capital.

While the roster of volunteers tends to include many retirees, Hamburger said the museum would like to reach out to other demographics, including teenagers and young adults.

“Volunteering here during the summer is a good way to get involved with that (history and art), and you can put it on a résumé,” Hamburger said.

Hamburger suggested that volunteering is a great way to interact with elders and longtime residents.

Volunteer Patty Winegar told museum staff: “I enjoy meeting and getting to know other volunteers, many of whom have lived here all their life and have interesting stories to tell.”

Some high school government students volunteer to meet class requirements, since the city museum counts as a government agency.

“It’s great having young helpers, even if they’re here a couple times a week or even once. The kids love it. They love the teenagers more than me,” Hamburger said with a laugh.

The biggest need, Bruce said, is at the front desk. Volunteers need some computer skills to operate the register, since admission is charged during the summer months.

“We’re very happy to pair volunteers not comfortable with a computer with someone who is,” she said.

Volunteering at the museum does offer opportunities to work with others. There are always two people at the front desk. Hamburger said some people will volunteer together.

“Elaine and Betty volunteer on Thursday mornings. They’re cousins who both grew up here,” she said. “For them it’s a nice, weekly get-together, their date at the museum.”

Other pairings might include a parent or grandparent and child, or even people who may not know each other but complement each other’s skill sets.

Welcoming visitors at the front desk isn’t the only way to get involved. Visitor services volunteers may man the reception area, but they may also assist with educational tours and clerical or collections projects. Collections volunteers may help with data entry, scanning, photography, collections maintenance and research projects - some projects for a helpful multi-tasker can be done at the front desk. Other volunteer opportunities include special events and receptions, gift shop crafts, Juneau Explorers Camp and more.

The volunteer program doesn’t benefit just the museum, though, volunteers can get a lot out of the experience.

“Volunteers really do enjoy the visitors who come in,” Hamburger said. “Local or tourists and travelers. We have the nice kind of tourists, the interesting kind. They have to come up the hill, so they have to be interested in this place.”

Hamburger described the typical visitor as interesting and inquisitive.

“Volunteers have told me how enriching it is for them personally,” she said. “Meeting people from Australia, Japan, Norway or - you know - Connecticut.”

She added jovially, “They’re not annoying.”

Other perks? Bruce said volunteers who contribute at least 20 hours become a member of the Friends of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum group and receive 20 percent off gift shop items, a free ticket for the walking tour and admittance to volunteer events throughout the year, including a holiday potluck.

Don’t take their word for it; plenty of volunteers were willing to share their experiences volunteering with the museum.

“I just moved to Douglas and volunteering at the museum opened my eyes to the huge amount of information it has about the Treadwell mines, including a thorough time display of how the cave-in happened, and great pictures. When volunteers aren’t busy, they are at leisure to explore this wonderful resource - and get thanked for it,” Beverly Haywood wrote to the museum’s Facebook page in April.

Carol Scafturon wrote: “Because I’ve traveled a lot, I enjoy meeting visitors who come into the City Museum from all over the world - especially those who are from places I have been to. What a great opportunity for me to return a bit of the hospitality I’ve been show over the years. It never gets old, sharing information about Juneau’s past and present. Answering questions about our town reminds me how fortunate I am to live in such a special place.”



Juneau-Douglas City Museum: www.juneau.org/museum


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com

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