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Shell Museum needs volunteers to help during summer

By Staff | Apr 17, 2009

The upcoming exodus of winter residents means less traffic on Sanibel and Captiva. But it also means less manpower at local non-profit agencies such as The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum as part time residents who also serve as volunteers leave for their northern residences.

Shell Museum staff are already starting to notice a drop in their volunteer numbers as the winter season comes to an end.

Staff are scrambling to find more volunteers to replace those who are leaving or will be gone in time to train and fill positions for the approaching summer programs.

The Museum has five full-time staff members, six part-time employees contributing hours equivalent to about three full-time employees, and 90 volunteers.

These volunteers serve as educators and exhibit hall docents. Their duties include escorting and educating visitors during tours, giving presentations to groups in the lecture room, helping out the shell museum’s store and working with the summer camp and day camp programs.

The pool of volunteers drops to about a dozen during the summer months, said Diane Orvis-Thomas, program specialist for the shell museum.

“They’re the nuts and bolts of the museum.” Orvis-Thomas said. “If you didn’t have the back-up support we couldn’t give the personalized tours we give.”

And though the volunteer pool will be taking the dip, the museum’s needs are rising.

Kathleen Hoover, the Museum’s Public Relations Manager said, “The Museum’s need for volunteers has increased over the last 14 months, in part because the number of visitors continues to increase each year. The increased need also is directly linked to our response to visitor and community feedback. A number of interactive programs have been added like Monday’s live mollusk demonstration, the workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday demonstrating how to find, clean, and safely transport shell treasures back home, the Friday morning Mommy and Me Program, Behind the Scenes Tours of the Museum conducted twice each month and the monthly beach walk.”

Dick Weiss who has been a volunteer at the shell museum for more than five years said he finds the work there rewarding.

“I love teaching,” Weiss said. “I enjoy the kids and the adults.”

Weiss, a retiree who lives on Sanibel for seven months out of the year, said he loves getting to use his skills from his teaching profession when volunteering.

“Once a teacher always a teacher,” he said.

Weiss urges anyone thinking about volunteering at the museum to “just do it.” He said that as long as a potential volunteer is curious and has a willingness to learn they will do great inn the program.

Volunteers go through a training program, are given a Museum membership and receive a Museum Store discount and discounted pricing for special events. Bridge toll reimbursement is provided for volunteers living off-island. Anyone interested in receiving additional information can call Orvis- Thomas at 395-2233.

Volunteer roles include the following:

Special Events: Provide support by serving in Museum booths at community events, helping with craft activities, or guiding visitors through the Museum gallery.

Education or Group Docent: Work with scheduled student and adult tour groups. Docents participate in a structured program designed to educate the public about shells and mollusks, their role in the environment and conservation practices related to mollusks.

Exhibit Hall Docent: Provide interpretative services for museum visitors regarding Museum exhibits and the importance of shells in the natural world.

Youth Docent Trained Volunteers between the ages of 12 and 18 help Museum visitors better understand and appreciate the importance of mollusks and their shells; in nature, history, and our culture.

Library: Assist with cataloging, sorting, storage, data entry, and retrieval.

Museum Store: Assist with the daily store operations, stock inventory, assist shoppers, wrap packages and handle customer inquires. Volunteers applying for this position must be willing to learn to operate the computerized cash register and enter sales transactions.

Educational Programs and Tour Guide Opportunities: Provide public presentations and tours for both permanent and special exhibitions designed for school groups and adult tour groups.

Education Office Volunteer: Volunteers assist the education team with mailings, copying, computer input and preparation of materials for hands-on activities for the public.

Office Assistant: Volunteers help process mailings, provide data base management support, and assist with various office tasks.

(Press reports contributed to this story.)