Over the past few years the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIPs) program at the National Mall, a partnership between the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service (NPS), has been steadily growing in an effort to enhance the visitor experience for the more than 25 million people who go to the National Mall each year. The Trust completed a successful training session in May that helped prepare 50 VIPs for their jobs on the National Mall, just in time for the summer’s heavy visitor traffic.
The VIP program’s mission is to equip volunteers with the knowledge and expertise to assist visitors with everything from locating the nearest place to eat for families with hungry children to giving directions to monuments. The yellow shirt-clad volunteers also play an important role in providing a historical context to the park’s many monuments and memorials. To date, the Trust has trained more than 150 National Mall VIPs.
“The volunteers help the park rangers tremendously in providing visitors information, both from a historical point of view and a modern perspective,” said Leon Scioscia, Director of Volunteer Programs at the Trust.
Since the Trust became involved in the VIP program a little more than two years ago, enthusiastic area residents have given up their time on four consecutive Saturdays to participate in a training session that includes role-playing scenarios for assisting park visitors who don’t speak English and guidelines on how to lead tours.
To build on its success, Scioscia hopes to expand the partnership between the Trust and NPS from two to three sessions per year, which he expects will train more than 150 volunteers each year.
Thanks to seed grants from the Boeing Company and the Bernstein Family Foundation, the program has grown significantly in recent years, as the Trust has helped NPS develop a new type of VIP: the roving volunteer. The roving volunteer directly complements site volunteers, who assist park rangers at specific monuments, and are stationed on the main grassy areas of the Mall between 3rd and 14th Streets.
“With those two types of VIPs we feel that the program here on the National Mall has evolved, and is working better for park visitors. We are anxious to continue to evolve it in similarly inventive ways,” added Scioscia.
Program participants often have not only a passion for the history, heroes and hope that the National Mall represents, but also a personal connection to the park. Recently-trained volunteer Bob Swartz still recalls his first visit to the National Mall on a high school field trip, and as a Vietnam War veteran he feels a deep-rooted attachment to what the park represents.
“I think [the National Mall] contains great historical events. It adds perspective to our nation, to our being on Earth,” said Swartz. “It has so much to offer you can spend weeks there.”
The VIP program also serves as a valuable teaching tool for the Trust and NPS to further educate the public about the Trust’s work to restore and preserve the National Mall.
“I had no idea about what’s going on [at the park] and what the Trust is doing,” said Donna Henry, a local attorney and recent VIP trainee, who notes that visitors frequently express an interest in learning more about the current and planned restoration projects on the National Mall.