Assignment to “Groups”
today was a bit intimidating, since volunteers I’ve met have generally cautioned me that this was the least desirable post. My mentor advised me to ask if there would be anyone with me at this post, since it could become hectic, depending upon the number of groups and the number of visitors within the groups. I remember a meeting where the number of group visitors would be up to 4,000 for the day – thankfully, though, not this day.
Volunteers are always and only assigned to the “Youth” groups. These are generally high school student classes, clubs, etc,, that are led by a teacher and other chaperones. The volunteer’s job is to sign in the group, verify that all group members have arrived and then fetch staff to distribute the individual tickets. We must be vigilant that no food or drink, except bottled water, is brought in, and be attentive to any backpacks or other large parcels that anyone might be carrying, including the teachers and chaperones. Four groups, not necessarily all Youth, are scheduled each half hour. They usually arrive sometime between those 30 minutes, which is good and avoids congestion, since one group can be anywhere from 20 to 75 students, maybe more.
After checking them in outside, I would escort the group through security – similar tyo airport security, including body scan, if deemed necessary (or if you happen to get into those lines by mistake) – except that you can leave your shoes and jacket on. After security, I collect everyone just beyond security and after everyone is inside, I very pleasantly give a little talk :
- No sitting on the floor
- No eating or drinking except at the cafe level
- No flash photography, and in some cases, where signified, no photography at all
- No touching any of the exhibits unless there is signage permitting it
- No rowdiness, running, loud talking, making phone calls
- A bit about how solemn this museum is and how respectful we should be for those lost on the day, the first responders and the very artifacts themselves.
After that, I lead them down to the coat room to deposit their backpacks, packages – anything that might be on the large side. Then, the students are given back to their leaders.
My first group was local and fairly quiet, about 30 visitors. I thought I was doing everything the right way, but when we got near the check room, I was greeted by another volunteer’s voice addressing the students very loudly to move against the wall and leave the (significantly large) entrance to the cloak room area clear. Yes, Ma’am! While waiting for the students to return from checking their bags, I decided to tell the remaining ones about the replica “sphere”of the one that graced the Plaza between the Twin Towers.
The original sphere was 27 feet high and somewhat damaged, but still intact after the Towers fell. It was moved to Battery park, where it stayed for 14 years. With the completion of the elevated Liberty Park, just East of the Memorial, it will be set down beside the nearly completed reconstruction of St. Nicholas National Shrine .
I guess I must have led about six groups into the Museum and down to near the cloak room for hand-off to their respective leaders, but three stood out to be remembered.
The St. Louis Children’s Choir were the last group I checked in. Every other group had at least one backpack to go to the coat room, but as I looked around this, my largest group of the day (64) , I saw not one backpack or large bag, purse, whatever. I congratulated the group and gave them 100% on the backpack test. Before they could cheer, a small young lady came over – yep- wearing a smallish backpack. While the other kids seemed disappointed in their less than 100% collective grade, I hoped that the coat check staff would not deem this large enough to be “checkable”, but, alas, it was. Oh, well.
I wish I could remember where the other two groups were from, but one of them had the most gregarious, attentive, un-self conscious young adults I’ve seen in a long time. I guess no one told them before that couldn’t bring food into the museum, and one young lad came to the front of the line with a whole pizza in a box. As much as I hated to tell them, I advised them that no food could be brought in to the Museum. While they were disappointed, another in the group told me they knew about that restriction after the fact and had gone looking for a homeless person to give the pizza to, but couldn’t find one. Imagine that? They walked for several blocks, actually had some food to give a homeless person, and there were none to be found. In New York City. I didn’t see where they left the pizza, but they did not have it going in. Nor did they have the Cokes – just any bottle water. Throughout the brief time we had, going through security, listening to my “lecture”, going to the coatroom and waiting for the leader to take them over, the students engaged in conversations with me: “Should we call you Miss Barbara?”, “Where should we go first?” “Where are you from?”, “Do you like living in NYC?”. But the nicest was when I released them to their chaperones and they indicated that they were disappointed that I wasn’t going to give them the guided tour. Made me feel really good.
The most memorable was also from somewhere out of town, likely Boston. A typically happy to be in New York group, talking to one another, looking around at the other tourists, etc., but one young lady caught my eye. She did not look at all happy; in fact, she looked on the verge of crying. Volunteers are instructed to ask if we can help anyone who looks distressed and I approached the student to ask if she was feeling okay. With tears in her eyes, she told me that her Dad was supposed to have been on one of the planes that hit the Towers that day. She must have been no more than one or two years of age on that September 11, but she still felt the horrific potential of possibly having lost her father. She told me that she had been to the Memorial once before, but couldn’t go in. As ineffective as I likely was, I let her know that if she felt she could not continue, to have her leader look for a 911 staff or volunteer, and that there were special “emergency” exits throughout the main exhibition hall if one felt overwhelmed. Then the group continued on.
I so wanted to leave my post this day satisfied with my work and glad that I met so many wonderful young people (including a group from Alaska!), but that last young girl stayed in my mind. I hung around for a bit to see if I could catch that group leaving the Museum or Memorial, which I thought was almost impossible. But – you guessed it – I did see her coming towards me all smiles. She thanked me for my concern about her and said that she was glad to have been able to go through the whole building and felt much better now that she had.
So did I.