Volunteer Appreciation Week: Celebrating Visitors Services Volunteers

Visitor Services volunteers help people experience Balboa Park

Visitor Services volunteers play a pivotal role in shaping visitors’ experiences as they field questions at the information desk in the Balboa Park Visitors Center, direct visitors at Park Ambassador tents across the park, and share their wealth of knowledge as tour guides. These dedicated volunteers serve as friendly faces for first-time park visitors and returning locals, offering personalized recommendations, information about the park, and a warm welcome to all who stop by.

Tom Ballenger, Visitor Services Volunteer

Volunteers often see themselves as ambassadors not just for Balboa Park but for San Diego itself, giving recommendations for restaurants in the city, must-see attractions, and experiences. As they share advice and information, “it just builds upon itself,” says Tom, who is coming up on his one-year anniversary of volunteering for Forever Balboa Park. “As I interact with our guests, I try to find out what they are interested in. I’ve had people in front of us for an hour, and it’s been fun! You get to know the people as well, and that’s one of the benefits—you see so many people from across so many walks of life. It’s rewarding in itself.”

Nick, who has volunteered for over four years, serves with all three branches of the Visitor Services team: at the information desk, outdoors as a Park Ambassador, and as a tour guide. Reflecting on his role, he says, “I educate people about the park, [and] it’s amazing how grateful people are.” There have been a few standout experiences where, after assisting a visitor and recommending activities, “they inevitably walk past you later and say, ‘Wow! That was the best recommendation!’ That’s made it feel special, and I love the fact that I know I made so many people’s vacations.”

Nick DeCorso, Visitor Services Volunteer

“I’m particularly enthusiastic about our new Women’s Tour,” shares Jean, who has volunteered since 2018 and played a key role in creating a tour that focuses on the women who helped shape Balboa Park, past and present. “What is most exciting to me is that we have seven [volunteers] now who are very enthusiastic about giving this tour, and I am hopeful that it will continue.”

Within the volunteer community, friendships form quickly. “We have some regulars who work the Friday morning shift, and some really nice friendships have emerged,” says Rosie, a volunteer since 2019. “We have each other’s backs if something odd comes up, and we each have our own interests and sets of knowledge to share with visitors.”

Left to right: Sharman French, Jean Stein, Kathy Hunyor, Visitor Services Volunteers

“We have fun behind the counter,” says Tom. “It’s not just about serving Balboa Park; it’s about representing San Diego and building connections with people in the community.” Visitor Services volunteers recognize the role they play in shaping visitors’ perceptions of the San Diego community as a whole. “I love working with [visitors] from other countries,” says Rosie. “We have information about attractions all over the city, so I get to share that with them and really make their trip to San Diego special.”

For many volunteers, the decision to dedicate their time stems from a deep love for the park and a desire to give back to the community. For Jean, Balboa Park “is my happy place … where my joy is. It’s a selfish thing for me to volunteer because I love it so much and I get so much back by continuing to be part of a community.” For Rosie, her “connection to the Park has deepened and it has been enriched. I feel a great attachment to Balboa Park, and that attachment grows and changes just as things change across the park.”

As Visitor Services volunteers work directly with visitors to the park, they find that volunteering is so much more than giving back. Sentiments about the value and gratification of connecting with one’s community through volunteerism were shared. “I genuinely look forward to coming in and volunteering,” says Nick. For Tom, it is about collective efforts to build community: “If you have time you can give, it’s good to give back. That’s the big thing—give back to your community, get out, do good, and meet people!”

In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 22nd to 27th), we will be highlighting our different volunteer groups. We rely on the support of generous donors to deploy 300+ volunteers to serve our visitors and improve the park’s gardens, trails, and trees. Give now to cultivate the important work our volunteers are doing.

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