Volunteering as Lighthouse Hosts -> What Do You Actually DO?
I’m sure all you folks are sitting on the edge of your seats practically bursting with anticipation at how our new job is going. I’ve actually got a few posts lined up on the whole volunteering thing since I know many RVers are interested, and hopefully the readers that are “old hands” at this won’t mind my amateur attempts at explaining how it all works.
For those of you who follow the blog you’ll know we got the job applying to Oregon State Park Volunteer Services in ~mid-May. There were several reasons we chose Oregon and particularly the job of interpretive hosts which I’ll write about in my next post, but for now I’ll just put you through a typical day so you can get a feel of what we actually do here.
Now every lighthouse is a little different and host duties vary some depending on where you go. The Coquille River Lighthouse happens to be the smallest on the OR coast so everything is handled in 2 daily shifts by two “fulltime” lighthouse host couples and two “relief” couples. They take care of opening, hosting and closing the lighthouse each day and are responsible for just about everything to do with welcoming and (hopefully) educating visitors a little about this lovely, historic place. Basically while you’re on duty, the lighthouse is entirely yours and you even get the keys to boot! Here’s a sprinkling of our duties:
1/ Work Hours – The lighthouse hosts operate in 3-hour shifts (so one AM 11-2 shift and one PM 2-5 shift each day). There’s a little work before and after each shift so it ends up being a total of around 4 hours/day. The “fulltime” hosts work Wed-Sun and get Mon & Tues off (during while time “relief” hosts take over).
2/ Downstairs Fog Signal Room & Gift Shop – Coquille has a cool elongated octagonal room attached to the tower that originally housed the equipment for the steam-powered Daboll fog horn. These days the room functions as a history room and small gift shop. My job is to welcome people to the room, tell them a little history about the place and handle gift shop sales. I’ll also organize folks for the tours to the tower.
3/ Upstairs Interpretive Tours – Coquille offers free tours into the tower so Paul’s job is to be there to welcome the tours as I send them up and tell them about the history of the lighthouse and area. He basically spends all day jabbering which, as a former sales person, he is supremely well adapted to do.
4/ Odds and Ends – Outside of the tours & sales there’s a few odds and ends we do such as closing out the register each day, keeping track of the number of visitors, doing inventory once a week, sweeping the path to the lighthouse and wiping down dirt every now and then.
Easy, peasy right?
And indeed after training, reading the volunteer handbook a dozen times and donning the all-important volunteer vest I felt more than ready to handle the task. All this despite the fact that I’m by no means a natural history buff (having a rather pathetically poor memory of dates) and the fact that the sales register at the lighthouse seems to have been built around the turn of the century, requires everything to be entered in magical (or so it seems) code and functions as reliably as a crabby, old cat. No problem, honey…bring it on!
Now, as everyone knows there’s nothing like a bursting confidence to ensure the universe finds a way to give you a good dose of humility.
And that’s exactly what happened….
First day on the job, spanking new and sparkly eager with 5 total minutes to my volunteer name, the ‘ol register decides to give out. Without any warning the cranky machine popped up a random error code and started beeping non-stop in a high-pitched raise-the-hair-on-your-neck kinda tone. Not even “old hands” Gary & Nita (our co-hosts) had seen this one before. There was nothing in the book about this, nothing at all and there were at least 10 people milling around waiting for me to get started…aaaaaaaah….panic time! After fiddling desperately with the thing for 20 minutes or so we give up and move to ‘ol-fashioned pen & paper mode. 20 minutes later and I’m (sorta) in control of the existing crowd, apart of course from the 8 kids that are running around with the display items and the folks asking me a question about the structure outside which I know absolutely nothing about. Two and a half hours later we close the doors and breathe a collective sigh of relief. Phew…we made it…barely!
The next day our shift opens to a more organized (and humbled) yours truly, but manages to set the record of the year for visitors (116 in total). Paul has gotten into a nice groove up in the tower and is managing the day without back pain (a huge bonus) while I’m sorta, kinda, almost in control of the downstairs. I ALSO know what that structure is outside now, and can even throw in a few actual (real) stories about shipwrecks and lighthouse duties. Even the ICR (idiotic cash register) cooperates this day. I get my very first “wow, that is so cool” response which immediately makes me feel much, much more valuable.
So, that in a nut shell is what we do. We’re into our 4th day now and have the routine down to a much more relaxed & enjoyable pace. Visitors (for the very most part) are interested and happy to be there, the weather has been absolutely rippingly lovely, and the view out the office window simply can’t be beat. I’ve even managed to make a tentative truce with the ICR. All in all it’s really a very cool stress-free job which has turned out almost exactly as we hoped. Our co-hosts and co-park-volunteers are fabulous and we get a free campsite in the lovely state park to boot. Great place, great job and great folks…we are VERY happy to be here!