Volunteers Pay It Forward in Salem Ma. How About in Your Community?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King, Jr

In today’s “everything is about me” environment, from the President’s self-serving tweets to the busy-body racist neighbors questioning whether someone who lives in an apartment complex has the right to use “their” pool, I sometimes wonder where the people are who do something for nothing for their fellow man (and woman). Then things pop up to remind me, such as the volunteers with the Salem Main Streets Ambassadors. A recruitment drive is underway.

Haunted Happenings

In the community I’ve lived in for the past decade, we’ve had a simple but lovable tradition in October, we go CRAZY. Salem Massachusetts does not just celebrate Halloween on October 31st. We celebrate all month long, with events, merchants, and attractions all contributing to a festive atmosphere. We call it Haunted Happenings.

The City, Salem Main Streets, Destination Salem, Creative Salem, Haunted Happenings Magazine and other local organizations continue to do a fantastic job of getting the word out. On a good year, we can expect over 100,000 tourists. Several merchants have been known to cover their rent for the year!

But, when tourists arrive, they are overwhelmed with so many options to see, and so many directions to walk (yes, Salem is a very walkable city). Where do you start? How do you hold the map? Does the red line on the sidewalk have a spooky meaning or a practical one?

That is where the Salem Main Streets Ambassadors come in. Operating from an Information Booth centrally located at the corner of Washington Street and Essex Street, volunteers respond to a thousand and one questions from visitors. Where is the Witch Museum vs the Witch House or the Witch Dungeon? Where is the closest bathroom? Where do you get lobster? Are there any tours (hint, there are usually a dozen different ones)?

I was one of those volunteers. In fact, I was part of the founding group long before the “booth” appeared. We were supplied a folding card table and chairs. I salvaged two bricks from an alley to use as picturesque paperweights to keep fliers from, well, flying away on windy October weekends. But, we persevered. Guests needed us.

In the decade since, volunteers have helped thousands & thousands of people from Canada, the Far East, the Middle East etc., with smiling faces and reassurances that coming to Salem was a great Day trip Destination or vacation hot spot decision.

Volunteers, Veteran and Novice to Gather

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Salem Main Streets Ambassadors are having a volunteer recruitment drive for this October’s team. Some of us have moved on to other volunteer functions. Some people return year after year. There are always openings.

People looking to pay it forward will step up. And, not “just old folks.” According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 are the most likely to volunteer their time.

FYI to Social Media Managers or small business owners reading this blog: establishing a volunteer corps for an existing local festival or event is something you might consider doing for your community to entice volunteers.

The Salem orientation will take place on September 15 at 9:30 am in the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center. Volunteers will be updated on new October events and there will be time for returning volunteers to share insights and information with those new to the program.  The annual orientation will cover all the basics for new volunteers, as well as important updates and reminders for returning ambassadors.

Attendees are asked to sign up in advance and bring ID for the CORI process (Criminal Offender Record Information).

Those volunteers unable to attend the session or who would like to complete CORI paperwork earlier, may stop by the Salem Main Streets office at 265 Essex Street on Sat, Sept. 8 from 10 am to 2 pm.

That’s what volunteers do in our community. What do you do in yours?

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Audrey Hepburn

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