Posted by: COSI | September 30, 2008

Creating a Volunteer Legacy

My last blog touched on how my relationship with COSI and the late President Roy Shafer dating back to the late 80’s gives me a reference point as I respect our past and help inspire our team for the future. Another “ace” I have in this effort is Betty Bryan who made an incredible impression on me when I was introduced to her and her “guest advocate” role at COSI during my 1990 interview at COSI.

Betty has had an incredible career at COSI—but the key to it and her passion is that she started as a volunteer in 1964 (working with young teens like Roy Shafer), moved on to paid positions which finally included a Vice President role, and then moved back to a volunteer capacity when she retired for the second time in 1999. Betty is passionate about our guests and the volunteers who help us provide our guests with an extraordinary experience.

And Betty is not one to enjoy personal attention—so I’m potentially going to be in trouble for this blog! But if I use it to highlight our incredible volunteer corps, maybe she’ll forgive me 😉

Our recent annual meeting celebrating our volunteers’ contributions reminded me of the breadth and depth of the program. We documented 12,272 volunteers last year–yes, that’s volunteers, not hours! Together, they generated a support help of 113,848 hours, or the equivalent of having an extra 55 full-time staff members! When you’re providing great experiences for almost 1,000,000 people a year at COSI and through outreach, you can understand how valuable our volunteers are.

Many of our volunteers are gathered at schools where they assist us at each outreach event. However, we also have our cadre of loyal regular volunteers (including roughly 250 teens) who you encounter at every turn at your COSI event. We also have our volunteer specialists/experts in science, health, medical, and engineering who engage in our Electronic Education program, our special theme days (like Physics Day, Nanotechnology Day), our dedicated Friends of COSI and Advisory Committee members who provide support and guidance to our work, and our Board of Trustees who have helped lead COSI and link us to the leadership of our community.

But what isn’t much different as I talk to volunteers, is the motivation. I often hear, “I love working with people,” “I want to help with the next generation and keep more kids inspired in science and technology—we need them for our future as a country,” and “COSI is just such a great place to be associated with.”

And our volunteers are committed to making sure our guests’ and program participants’ experiences are of highest quality—they have to interview for their position, they go through training, and they are kept matched with the best use of their talents as much as possible. We celebrate this and our paid team members who best support our volunteers through our Betty Bryan award – recognizing the team member who demonstrates excellence in volunteer management and can only be nominated for this award by a volunteer team member.

There is no better example of volunteer support and engagement than Betty—she has seen, and done, it all in more than 40 years of loyal service. You might say she guided Roy from his early teen years as a volunteer to his role as CEO for 12 years!

No wonder at the volunteer award event we annually recognize the dedication to the COSI guest experience and culture that Betty and a number of key volunteers have embodied for so many years. This CEO knows he can find Betty every Wednesday still helping not only our guests, but our team members—both paid and volunteer (including me!). So to Betty and all the volunteers who have contributed to our ability to be named the #1 Science Center in the country—a big thanks from me!

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