Volunteer Power at the Front Desk

Written by Michael Espinoza
    Wednesday, 06 May 2015
Menomonee Valley branch receptionist Sybil Rockwell Menomonee Valley branch receptionist Sybil Rockwell

“Do you like animals? There’s a room filled with Wisconsin Animals and a S-L-I-D-E” our Saturday morning receptionist Sybil Rockwell said smiling.

“A what?!” said a visiting child. He begins to sound out the letters “S-L-I-D-E, sl-ide, slide”. “There’s a slide here!?” said the child excitedly.

"Your right!" answered Sybil, “Let’s go find it!”

This is just one example of the many unique interaction that our volunteer receptionists provide our visitors.

The front desk receptionists are a dedicated crew of volunteers that return week after week for a 2-3 hour shift. They play an important role for our operations and work towards our mission of ecological understanding and growing community.

It’s a volunteer opportunity that requires training and puts them at the front and center of our visitor’s experience. They welcome visitors to our buildings, provide our members with information and equipment to explore outside, and connect guests to programs and volunteer opportunities.

Many new visitors to the Urban Ecology Center wander in and ask questions like “What is this place?”, “Is it okay if I come in?”, and “May I use the bathroom?” Every receptionist has encountered these questions numerous times and I have heard each receptionist have their own unique answer (except for the bathroom question). Some receptionists highlight our environmental education activities, some highlight our land stewardship volunteer opportunities, and some engage our visitors through our Native Wisconsin Animal Room. Each answer to those questions can be different depending on who is sitting at the front desk, but they are all correct! It is easiest and genuine when you talk about something that interests you, and the front desk receptionists are encouraged to do just that. The interaction between receptionist and visitors are excitingly unique and ever changing.

Another of their unique duties involves fulfilling our equipment lending requests. Members of the Urban Ecology Center are welcome to borrow bikes, canoes, kayaks, camping equipment, lawn games, garden tools, sleds, skis, ice-skates, and snowshoes. The receptionists are well versed in our equipment and help members to identify the right piece for their adventure. Nervous first time campers are put at ease through the friendly and thoughtful service provided by our receptionists. By providing equipment for members we are able to promote community through outdoor recreation.

The Menomonee Valley receptionists come from a variety of backgrounds. They are entrepreneurs, retirees, students, recent graduates, and professionals who dedicate a few hours a week to supporting the Urban Ecology Center’s mission. Here are a few of the people who have dedicated their time and talent at our desk.

Emily BablitchEmily Bablitch, a former receptionist, found the Urban Ecology Center as the perfect niche for her to dedicate her time and efforts to while she was waiting to begin an outdoor adventure sea-kayaking job. She immersed herself fully in the Urban Ecology Center’s volunteer opportunities. She took three shifts at our front desk, and spent her morning volunteering with the education department’s Neighborhood Environmental Education Project. We are thankful for her service and wish her well as she leads outdoor education adventures in Malaysia!

Tina UrchTina Urch, a Friday afternoon receptionist describes her experience: “I like having the regular commitment to volunteer, it makes it easy to stay involved. And I like being at the front desk because I get to help people when they come in. My favorite part is telling new visitors all about the Urban Ecology Center”.

Next time you stop in, introduce yourself! The receptionists love getting to know our guests and help us to build a stronger community. The volunteer receptionists are the backbone to the services we provide to our members and visitors. 

Michael Espinoza

Michael Espinoza

Michael is a Community Program Educator and Visitor Services Assistant at our Menomonee Valley branch. He is a graduate of Boston University where he studied Environmental Analysis and Policy. He can often be found playing on the slide or hiding in the trunk of a tree with the Young Scientists Club. He is an avid vermi-composter, gardener and has recently taken on beekeeping.


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