Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Juneau in the summertime, friendly faces of Juneau residents are ready to welcome visitors to Alaska's capital. Many of the faces are those of Juneau Convention and Visitor Bureau volunteers - more than 150 people who "make Juneau shine," as the JCVB slogan states.
"Our people are really proud of Juneau," said Carol Scafturon, director of visitor services for the JCVB. She and Jennifer Lockwood, volunteer coordinator at the bureau, recruit, train and schedule volunteers so visitors won't miss the personalized experience the volunteers offer.
Visitors have received official welcomes from Juneau residents since 1958, when the first visitor information center was opened in the Juneau Chamber of Commerce office in the municipal building. Edna Williams, who was working for the Chamber of Commerce then and now volunteers for the JCVB, helped found the program.
"We moved into the Gastineau Hotel about 1960, and that was the first time we had an actual volunteer," Williams said.
When the Chamber of Commerce in 1972 moved into the space now occupied by the Observatory Bookstore, the visitor information center was given a separate desk, and volunteers started greeting people directly off the cruise ships, Williams said.
In 1980, the chamber moved to the Davis Log Cabin, which used to sit on the corner of Seward and Third streets. The chamber soon moved from the site, but the visitor information center stayed, manned by about 15 volunteers organized by Williams. In 1985, the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau was formed.
Volunteers with the JCVB spend at least four hours a month greeting visitors, answering the phone line or mailing out brochures - depending on the season and what tasks are most pressing. A greeter can be stationed at the ferry terminal, Centennial Hall, the cruise ship terminal or the kiosk at Marine Park.
The volunteers often "go above and beyond," said Lockwood. "We certainly don't expect our volunteers to do that, but it's in their nature."
"Often, the exact right volunteer will be at the right place at the right time," said Scafturon, director of visitor services at the bureau.
Dean Williams, Edna Williams' husband, is an avid tennis player who has volunteered with the JCVB for more than 30 years. He tells of how he has worked at the kiosk and had visitors ask him where the tennis courts are.
"I say, 'Yeah, you want to play?'" Williams said.
In exchange for their time, volunteers receive "a lot of intangibles," Lockwood said. "They meet cool people, gain knowledge about Juneau, they have opportunities to interact with people who represent other organizations."
Some of the more tangible benefits to volunteering are what JCVB staff call "fams" - familiarization tours. Local companies offer discounted and sometimes free tours for JCVB volunteers.
Familiarization tours "go a long way toward training volunteers," Lockwood said.
Volunteers who have experienced a flightseeing tour or a hike on the glacier or a trip to Tracy Arm are going to be much more effective at convincing visitors to experience the tours themselves, she said.
"Oftentimes there's just this kind of vision of people just wandering around," said Scafturon. "But we can remind them that the state museum is just across the street, or the tram is truly worth the ride up, or they do want to go see the glacier. ...
"There's just so much to do, and we want to convince cruise ship passengers to come back."
The economic impact of the volunteers is sizable, said Lorene Palmer, president and CEO of the JCVB.
"These are 150 ambassadors leaving a good impression in people's minds, and that translates to better business in Juneau," Palmer said. "That's a direct economic benefit to the city."
The volunteers provide about 7,000 hours of labor a year - the equivalent of a $70,000 donation to the community, Palmer said.
"We have hundreds of people every year who just give away their time for free," Lockwood said. "Very few have the idea of 'what's in it for me?' "
As a retiree, Beverly Jones said she volunteers with the JCVB to stay active and have a reason to get out of her house.
"I like people and I like to travel and that's really about it," she said. "I enjoy every minute of it. You meet so many interesting people from all over the world."
Jones has lived in and out of Juneau for the last 40 years. She volunteers four days a week in the winter and three days a week - one at Centennial Hall and two at the cruise ship terminal - in the summer.
To thank the volunteers, the JCVB organizes a mid-season potluck picnic and an end-of-season recognition banquet, usually aboard one of the cruise ships.
"We award as many awards as we possibly can," Lockwood said.
For more information on volunteering with the JCVB, call Jennifer Lockwood at 586-2201.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.