April is Volunteer Appreciation Month and a good time for all of us to express our deep gratitude to the many volunteers who generously share their time and talents. Meet some of the folks who help to make the Smithsonian seriously amazing. Don’t forget to keep checking back to meet more of our volunteers!
Lillian Pharr becomes a centenarian this week. At the age of 100 she may be the most senior Smithsonian volunteer! Since 1980 Lillian has volunteered at the Warren M. Robbins Library at the National Museum of African Art, creating reading lists, annotated bibliographies and biographical compilations of African artists. As NMAfA’s librarian, I have found her assistance invaluable for the past 35 years.
A retired D.C. primary school teacher, Lillian is also an adventurous world traveler—as you can see from this photo of a trip she took to Mali in 1994.
Contributed by Janet Stanley
Pat Seals is a volunteer Associates Event Representative, helping to host public programs such as lectures, seminars, music performances and educational courses. She brigs her long experience with the Department of Education’s regional and national high school Science Bowl competitions to her support of the Associates’ science, math and nature programs. Pat quickly became a valued and dependable volunteer, welcoming audiences and anticipating staff needs. She soon decided to expand her volunteer role by adding responsibilities for the Study Tours program and serving as a Smithsonian bus representative. She completed an extensive training process, including a full day “shadowing” an experienced volunteer on a 14-hour trip to New York City focusing on the fashion industry. The ideal ‘bus rep’ demonstrates exceptional customer service skills, is highly organized, maintains consistent focus on all the day’s details and logistics, and adeptly troubleshoots should an unexpected challenge arises.
Pat also volunteered her time and energy for a bonus volunteer opportunity at the Smithsonian’s inaugural Innovation Festival at the National Air and Space Museum. She engaged kids of all ages with a science demonstration of building an aircraft that could fly in a wind tunnel.
“It has been such a rewarding experience being an Associates volunteer and interacting with all of our patrons,” Pat says. “I love the programs, especially those involving science and young people, and I really enjoy working with my fellow volunteers, who have been so helpful and supportive.”
Contributed by Jenna Jones
Emily Blachly is an Art Signs volunteer docent at the American Art Museum, giving art talks in American Sign Language for both Deaf and hearing visitors.
“I always loved to wander in museums since I was little,” she says. “I always wished we had a docent who was Deaf, so I could better understand and relate to art pieces. Naturally, it was my dream to become a Deaf docent! When the Art Signs program opened up to new volunteers at American Art, I didn’t hesitate to sign up at all. It is a wonderful opportunity to share my love for the arts with the Deaf community. I love every moment of the experience; especially sharing art with new audiences. The different perspectives each group offers leads to really interesting discussion about art.”
Emily is an art teacher at Kendall Elementary School at Gallaudet University. She has brought her students to American Art to see the collection, and she loves sharing it with them.
Contributed by Carol Wilson
OFEO’s Metro Support Staff
Although the Metro support services staff at the Smithsonian’s Pennsy Drive facility are not volunteers (they work for the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability), their behind-the-scenes efforts have been indispensable in making the Smithsonian Associates’ popular Smithsonian Sleepovers program a success.
For the past three years, Tracey Rollins, Lawrence Fields, Chevene Bailey and Eric Byers (with help from Otis Massey, who coordinates logistics) have provided the Sleepover program’s supply deliveries─ everything from Explorer hats to Wooly Mammoth posters to huge plastic tubs of packing peanuts. Each week during the summer, they haul dozens of items both large and small back and forth from the Quad to the Natural History and American History Museums. Thank you not only from the Smithsonian Associates but from all the kids who get the chance to “spend a night at the museum.” We couldn’t do these programs without your help.
Contributed by Lauren Lyons
Robert Lee has been a volunteer and docent for the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum for the past eight years. In addition to serving as a museum docent, he has volunteered to help with many special events and public programs—He is always willing to assist when called upon. He is one of our most requested docents as the visitors really enjoy his charismatic way of leading tours.
Robert’s passion for volunteering runs in the family; his parents were devoted volunteers with their church, political organizations and community food banks. Robert chose to volunteer at Anacostia because of the museum’s community focus. Robert is a “people person” and enjoys the opportunity to meet visitors and local residents.
In addition to volunteering, Robert serves the community in his day job as Training, Education and Development Manager for the National WIC Association, the nonprofit arm and advocacy voice of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.
Contributed by Sheila Parker
Sara Shoob has been a docent at the American Art Museum for six years, giving tours and facilitating interactive gallery experiences for adults, families and students. When she retired from the field of education, she was looking for something that would enable her to utilize her love of art, history and teaching. “Being a docent at one of my favorite museums was the perfect fit. And I had also already worked with the wonderful education staff at the museum, so I knew that continuing that association would be great.”
Her favorite thing about being a docent is interacting with children and adults, helping them think about art. “Often when people thank me for a tour, they say that if they hadn’t had a docent tour, they would have just walked by the art and not really investigated or thought about it. People are so appreciative. And everyone once in a while, a student gives me a hug!”
Sara participated in a rigorous training class to become a docent, and enjoys the continuing education offered through the docent program. “I love learning new things – techniques, artists new to me, art during different time periods, and more. It helps me keep my brain active.” This year she serves in a leadership role in the docent program, as the Chair of the Docent Advisory Committee. “Being the Chair this year has been a wonderful opportunity. I’ve gotten to know more docents and have appreciated their support. We have such hard working docent volunteers who are always willing to take on new projects and go the extra mile for our visitors. Being a docent is such a pleasure. It is the perfect retirement gig for me!”
Contributed by Carol Wilson
Sally Moravitz, a retired dancer, has been volunteering at the Natural History Museum’s Insect Zoo for 26 years! Every Thursday you can see her feeding the tarantulas, including her own special namesake spider, Sally. Tarantulas give some people the creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. But they are harmless to humans (except for a painful bite) and their mild venom is weaker than a bee’s.
When asked to name her her favorite arthropod, Sally exclaimed, “Oh, honey!,” clearly overwhelmed at the idea of choosing just one. Sally loves volunteering for a variety of reasons: she enjoys meeting new people and she says she learns something new every time she comes to the museum. Most of all, she loves the look on someone’s face when they are able to hold an animal for the first time.
Contributed by Lisa Porter
My name is Linda Soto and I’m a Smithsonian volunteer. I retired in January 2009 after working at EG&G, currently a division of URS Corporation after 23 years as a technical librarian. It was a snowy day in early February when I decided it was the right time to volunteer. After searching online I found that the Smithsonian was beginning new training for volunteers in April. I applied for the program and was accepted.
I volunteer on Tuesdays in the Anthropology Library at the National Museum of Natural History. For three or four years, I enjoyed climbing the library ladders and shelving books, among other tasks. As my agility became more limited, I found other ways to contribute. I now enjoy typing gift records and preparing book orders—valuable additions to the Anthropology Library.
On Wednesdays, I volunteer in the Welcome Center at the American History Museum greeting visitors, answering questions and helping visitors find their way to interesting exhibits at the museum.
Over the past five years I have made many enduring friends at both of these museums. I consider these new friends the highlight of my experience as a volunteer at the Smithsonian. Volunteering also has opened many doors of knowledge for me that I might never have been exposed to had I chosen to volunteer for another organization. It is a pleasure working with everyone associated with the Smithsonian.
Contributed by Linda Soto
Leila Whiting, a retired social worker, has been a at the Natural History Museum’s Insect Zoo since 1995. If you come by on Wednesday afternoons, you’ll find her at the Touch-It Cart with her hands full—of Madagascar hissing cockroaches! If you’re lucky, she might let you hold one, too.
When asked why she loves to volunteer, Leila just shrugs and smiles. After retiring, she chose to volunteer with the insects because she loves to help people understand them better and learn to appreciate their importance to our ecology and the food chain. But she does confess to having a favorite—the Phyllium Giant Walking Leaf.
Contributed by Lisa Porter
Peter Yagura, a volunteer computer specialist at the Smithsonian Associates, has put his expertise to work in our offices twice a week since January of 2007. Peter handles the online postings for interns at colleges and universities nationwide, and does so with an editor’s eye, improving the listing descriptions to ensure the best possible response. His staff supervisor picked these three words as descriptors of Peter: “dedicated, consistent, and intelligent.”
Another of his responsibilities has been entering details about National Education Outreach programs into the EDGE database for easy retrieval. He presents information so that staffers and the public alike can learn about upcoming programs in schools around the nation. Just a few weeks ago, Peter offered to enter all the Associates programs data into EDGE, a gargantuan task that is tremendously important.
Peter also works with interns to assemble materials for distribution at programs. To make the work more fun, he brings in playlists of music – everything from opera to popular music from the 60’s and 70’s; he even brought an acid rock set when one of the programs was about teens and rock and roll.
Peter served as a Supervisory Visual Information Specialist for the Defense Intelligence Agency when he retired in 2003. He has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, and earlier in his life spent two years in the Peace Corps in Chile.
The Associates are the most fortunate beneficiaries of Peter’s dedication and commitment to excellence and are deeply grateful that he’s chosen to spend his time with us. Thank you, Peter!
Contributed by Jenna Jones
David Lewis, a retired chiropractor, has been a volunteer at the National Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Pavilion since April 2008, just two months after the pavilion first opened. On Monday mornings, you can find him at the Butterfly Cart where he loves to talk about the structural coloration of butterfly wing scales. As a volunteer, David enjoys learning new things about the exhibit in order to answer the array of questions he gets from visitors. His favorite butterfly in the pavilion is the Banded Peacock (Papilio palinarus), because its beautiful green coloration is actually a combination of blue and yellow that looks green to the eye.
Contributed by Lisa Porter
Posted: 24 April 2015