By Becky Fertitta
Read the full December issue of Viewpoints.
The McFaddin-Ward House is very fortunate to have a remarkable group of approximately 65 adult volunteers, who are committed to helping make the museum the very best that it can be. From the museum’s inception, the McFaddin-Ward House Board of Directors planned that volunteer docents, not paid staff, would provide tours (and eventually perform other functions as well). The board then enlisted professionals to develop a course of instruction that would ensure a highly competent group of interpreters. Although it has undergone many changes, thirty years later the McFaddin-Ward House Docent Training Program remains a first-rate program that continues to bear amazing “fruit.”
Because of the extremely high regard I have for our volunteers, when the Volunteer Service Council (VSC, the umbrella organization for all MWH volunteers) leaders asked me to explain the organizational structure for our volunteer recognition program in Viewpoints, I jumped at the chance; I know that even though the program makes perfect sense to me as volunteer coordinator, it must seem mostly a mighty muddle for our volunteers.
The awards program confuses volunteers partly because being recognized for their service is an added bonus—they really enjoy volunteering at the museum and never give a thought to the “pat on the back” they most assuredly deserve. But recognition is a key part of the package; along with excellent training, it forms the basis of our volunteer program. In the early days, volunteers were recognized only by years of service. It was soon evident that this method was not quite fair to many really devoted workers; so in 1996, the current recognition program was implemented and remains in place to this day—with a few tweaks along the way.
Volunteers’ hours are logged day in and day out, all year long, and cumulative totals kept from year to year. When volunteers amass a total of 125 hours of service, women receive a silver service pin, a jeweler’s rendition of the front doors of the McFaddin-Ward House, while men receive a tie tack in the same style. Volunteers usually reach this level after about three years of service; but most are quite surprised at the award, because they have no idea they have given that many hours. When the volunteer has accumulated 250 hours of service, usually in two more years, a small diamond chip is added to the service pin. This recognition comes as no surprise, because they have to return the pin to me to have the jeweler insert the enhancement.
At 500 hours volunteers are recognized with a small gift, a key chain made from the wood of our historic oak tree, “Rachel.” She toppled over in 2008, thanks to Hurricane Ike. Rachel is one of a pair of oaks who have graced the grounds of the museum for well over 100 years. She and her companion William, named for W.P.H. McFaddin’s parents, were given names in order to become members of the Louisiana Live Oak Society.
When volunteers have given 750 hours of service to the museum, they receive a framed print of the McFaddin-Ward House. And on the rare occasion that a volunteer tops the 1000-hour mark, twelve so far, she or he is given a pen and pencil set made of wood from Rachel. The box that holds them, although not made from the same wood, is engraved with the volunteer’s name and the year. The stations along this “Recognition Trail” honor our volunteers for every hour they give over the entirety of their career, be it through tours, helping with outreach programs, or planning programs.
Two additional awards are given each year. The Visitor Service Award honors the person who donated the most hours in the calendar year working with visitors, usually a docent who has gone far beyond the normal amount of time in giving tours. The Visitor Service Award gift varies from year to year. The second award is the highest a volunteer can receive: the Volunteer Innovation Personified (VIP) designation. The VIP recognition highlights a volunteer who consistently goes far beyond the call of duty and has a real impact on the museum’s mission. A small ruby and an additional diamond are added to the VIP’s service pin.
Small changes have been made to our recognition program through the years, but none so much as a recent change in the special honor shown to the past president of our VSC. For many years, the president’s service pin was sent to the jeweler for a light gold-wash denoting the special status. Because it has become extremely difficult to accomplish this particular task, past presidents now receive a plaque, suitable for hanging, with the McFaddin-Ward House logo screen-printed on a slate that once graced the roof of our museum. When the museum’s roof was restored in 2001—2002, the contractor used slate from the same quarry in Pennsylvania to replace the original. The original pieces that were in good condition were saved and now can be given to our past presidents—a little bit of history just for them!
It is such an honor to be the one who shares these special gifts of recognition with the adult volunteers at our annual appreciation banquet. I hope that the program outlined above shows our volunteers how much they are valued and appreciated. I also hope that in addition to gifts and accolades, my words and deeds, as well as those of the entire McFaddin-Ward House staff, let our volunteers know that they are the museum’s greatest assets.
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