Volunteers are the lifeblood of any cultural nonprofit organization, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Balboa Park Visitors Center. In the past year, approximately 65 volunteers logged over 10,000 hours, mainly staffing the Visitors Centers information desk—the busiest in the region. In California, the value of those work hours pencils out to one quarter of a million dollars!

But the real value of the Conservancy’s highly trained corps of volunteers goes well beyond the monetary savings their service provides (or the $35,000 in donations they collected last year). The Visitors Center volunteers serve as ambassadors of not only Balboa Park but of the entire City of San Diego. Greeting nearly 500,000 park visitors in 2016, our volunteers were among the first local representatives out-of-town tourists spoke to upon arriving in San Diego (not counting the Uber driver). Conservancy volunteers also lead guided tours of the park and staff major community events, such as Balboa Park December Nights, Fiesta Botanica, and Halloween Family Day.

“Time is a very precious commodity, so I’m always amazed at the number of hours our volunteers spend with us, assisting park visitors and helping the staff with all sorts of special projects,” said Visitors Center Director Suzanne Tawil-Betlach.

First impressions can be so important, and our volunteers bear the unique responsibility of setting the right tone for each guest’s visit, providing accurate information about the park as well as other points of interest in the area, and making each person feel welcomed and valued. But you would never know it is a “responsibility” after speaking to any of our volunteers, who are more likely to view their role as a privilege and a joy.

To show our deep appreciation, the Balboa Park Conservancy held its annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner on April 24. Coinciding with National Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 23–29), the dinner was held at the historic Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town. Many Conservancy board and staff members turned out to personally thank the scores of Visitors Center volunteers in attendance for improving the park experience for everyone, day in and day out.

Both Conservancy Board Member Joyce Gattas and President and CEO Tomás Herrera-Mishler spoke at the dinner to extend their gratitude for the many hours of service our volunteers performed. Special Milestone Awards were handed out to a number of volunteers in attendance for completing 175, 360, 650, and 800 total hours of service. Several others were recognized for completing five years of service. And a special award was given to Wendy Silver for her 10 years, while Ron Warren won the award for most hours in 2016, having worked 377.5 hours!