So we have 25 fresh, new youth volunteers
, announced a couple weeks ago, and the question before us now is, “What do we do with the UFO in our backyard?”
Let me back up…
Over 80 wonderful young people applied for our Youth Volunteer Program this winter. In an intense interview process, we ask them a variety of questions. Some questions are meant to show their communication skills. Some questions show us their historic skills. My favorite interview question, however, was a funny one: “If a flying saucer landed in your backyard, what’s the first thing you’d say to the alien?”
This question was meant to set the kids at ease by making them laugh, but it turned out to be one of our most profound. Most kids wanted to ask the alien, “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here?” Perfectly natural. Some would run away screaming. Also natural. But a handful of kids showed guest service potential:
• “I’d introduce myself and shake his hand. Or hands.”
• “I’d learn his language or invent a translator like on ‘Star Trek.’”
• “I’d give the alien ice cream.”
The faces of some kids lit up as they imagined everything they could learn from an alien:
• “I’d ask how to drive the flying saucer and how old you had to be on his planet to have a license.”
• “I’d want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
With this silly little UFO question, I see in our applicants guest service skills and enthusiasm to learn from others. I also see the challenge before me. In the month and a half before Opening Day (March 31), somewhere between training, costumes and policies, we still have to deal with this UFO in the backyard. Because the most important thing I can teach these youth is how to deal with “the other.”
“The other” may be a guest. The shy little 10 year old will have to smile at unfamiliar guests on the historic grounds and invite them to try an activity. Figuratively, the youth will “offer them ice cream and learn to speak their language.”
“The other” may be a new uncomfortable experience, like picking up after a goat in Animal Encounters.
“The other” may be a different worldview. The youth volunteer hears stories from a Lenape Indian, takes on the role of a fugitive slave in Follow the North Star
, looks at the Civil War from both sides or literally steps into the shoes of a character in 1836.
In the end, I hope when my youth and our guests come to Conner Prairie, they echo this answer about the UFO: “I want to know about their families and clothes and food and what they did for fun and everything.”
If you’re interested in learning more about what our youth volunteers are up to be sure to ‘Like’ us on Facebook!
Linda Flanagan - Guest Blogger: Conner Prairie Volunteer
It is a privilege to be able to share one of my favorite places!!!
I have visited Conner Prairie for many, many years as a parent, Girl Scout leader, preschool and elementary school teacher and as a grandparent. Our family enjoys the educational value that the Interactive Park brings to connect the past to the present day. Our family has spent many times together in Prairie Town, at the Prairie Tykes
programs, the inside and outside activities that are available for all ages, the summer evenings at Symphony on the Prairie and most recently the Civil War Journey
area. It is always at the top of the list for favorite places to visit each summer when out of town grandchildren come visit us for a week.
Several years ago I decided that Conner Prairie had provided such excellent learning experiences for us that I began volunteering. Since I was a full time teacher I was not flexible to be on a regular schedule as a volunteer
. Jody and Arlene, from the volunteer staff, were able to provide suggestions of ways I could give my time on weekends and for special programs to share my enthusiasm and help visitors experience a positive day and be eager to return.
My husband and local grandchildren, who have become family volunteers, have ‘caught the fever’ and regularly join the other volunteers for many of the Conner Prairie activities.
One of our very favorite volunteer activities includes Follow the North Star
-helping guests experience slavery and the Underground Railroad. Michelle Evans, Operations Manager, created the program and its accurate, authentic representation of life as slaves, who escape and become fugitives working their way to freedom. This program has received National Acclaim.
Making and renewing friendships with Conner Prairie Staff members, other volunteers, the youth, and regular Conner Prairie visitors keep us coming back to eagerly share experiences with guests. The Interactive Park is one of the best dollar value venues for families in the central Indiana area. What new opportunities will we find this year? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
If you are interested in exploring volunteer opportunities at Conner Prairie, please visit the Volunteers
page and fill out an application!