Helping all visitors feel welcome.
In my twenty-four years serving with the U.S. Foreign Service, I visited, lived, and worked in some of the most beautiful cities in the world. Of course, there are the usual cities that come to mind when thinking about wonderful places - London, Paris, Hong Kong. While I did visit those locations I also experienced destinations not found on most tourist maps – Lahore, Sukhothai, Algiers, and countless other places that still sound exotic to this boy from Dallas.
All of this is to say, that I am not new to experiencing places filled with wonder and charm. However, every time I returned home, my amazement continued at the beauty of Washington. I may be somewhat prejudiced, but I do live in the most beautiful city in the world.
Entering retirement, I looked for ways to add to my volunteer portfolio. I have been a hospice volunteer for many years, and while continuing that avocation, I wanted to fill my time with meaningful volunteer work without the urgency of dealing with the terminally ill. While with its own set of exigencies, being a VIP certainly fit that requirement. During VIP training, the volunteer coordinators gave us many different options for service. I selected to work the Mall near the Smithsonian Metro stop. While at first glance it looks like all I do is give people maps, direct them to the closest restaurant, and assist with photo taking. These are central to what I do every time I work.
However, I also have the opportunity to be the face of my nation in an area called by some - America’s Front Yard. I take this humbling task seriously whether I am greeting veterans from an Honor Flight, introducing a foreign family to the wonders of the Smithsonian, or explaining to an American – “No sir that big white structure is the Capital Building…NOT the White House.” Being on the National Mall gives me an opportunity to act as a living, breathing, walking information booth to fellow Americans and visitors from every corner of the world. In return, every day I work I supplement my base of knowledge about the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
Every tour of duty on the Mall is different so I have many good anecdotes to tell my friends about my experiences. A few are funny -“Where is Nordstrom’s?… No this is not that kind of mall.” A few are poignant –just walk by the World War II, Korean, or Vietnam War memorials and listen to the stories. Some days the park fills with energetic students eagerly anticipating the museums and monuments. Others days the park entertains empty-nesters, finally free to travel, walking the park at a leisurely pace just enjoying the fresh air.
Regardless of the reason for being at the Mall, it is my responsibility to make sure every person is welcome.