Visitors to the 1,947-acre Chippokes Plantation State Park are in for a treat. Besides enjoying outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and horseback riding, they can explore two plantation homes – Chippokes Plantation and James-Stewart Mansion – filled with history. With a setting across the water from historic Jamestown and accessible by taking the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry, the park is a popular Virginia destination.
Guiding those who come to the park is Kathryn Lane, the Volunteer Coordinator. Kathryn has lived in Surry, Virginia all but two of years her life (the first two years of married life were at Auburn, Alabama, with her husband finishing college there). When she and her husband moved back to Virginia, she attended the College of William and Mary, graduating with a degree in elementary education. She opened her own preschool her senior year of college, later taught a few years at the local public school, followed by homeschooling the youngest three children in her family.
Her love for teaching has some carryover in her current job as volunteer coordinator, particularly the aspects of planning, training, and organizing. More at ease with children, her work with adults has been a growth experience and an opportunity to develop improved skills of communication and hospitality.
Growing up in Surry County gave Kathryn a natural devotion to history since it is right across the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. Working at Chippokes only adds to the history connection, since it was a land grant on the southern side of the James River from the King of England in 1619 and abounds in history in its own right. Also, the river itself is a draw for being at the park, since Kathryn has loved being at the river and on the river since a child.
Working at a state park has a benefit of being part of not only preserving our natural and historic resources, but sharing them. The volunteers Kathryn works with at Chippokes play a major role in this preserving and sharing. There is purpose at Chippokes.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I had positive volunteer experiences with my children that led me to see the value of volunteering. For years I regularly took my children and their friends to a convalescent center where we led Bingo, organized craft activities, and sponsored special events such as Valentine parties and May Day celebrations. We also participated in a military ministry where we assembled what they call RDKs (Rapid Deployment Kits), packaging a camouflage Bible with a few other items in special bags to send to soldiers. Lastly, we as a family volunteered at the park where I currently work, doing garden work and beach cleanups.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
My first career choice was teaching, graduating from the College of William and Mary with an elementary education degree and teaching first grade for several years at a local public school. My husband and I then chose to homeschool our youngest three children, which was quite an investment of time and energy. (But so rewarding!) As that chapter of my life was closing, I responded to an ad for a Volunteer Coordinator position at Chippokes Plantation State Park, which is about three miles from our house. Two of our five children lifeguarded there and two others got married there!
I think the initial appeal was that this job is in a beautiful state park which happens to be close to home. But I quickly found that one of the big perks of this position is the variety of my days. A typical day may include giving new camp hosts an orientation of the park, composing a monthly volunteer newsletter, and helping a group with a landscaping project in our historic gardens. Our volunteers give mansion tours, assist with fossil walks, help with inventories of artifacts, and do so many assorted “chores” that it naturally diversifies my days.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
The training for a position like this is “on the job.” I received excellent training from park personnel (and even a volunteer who was a former Volunteer Coordinator at the park) and ongoing training from the Virginia State Parks central office of volunteerism.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Thankfully, no one has been discouraging.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I guess you might say this is my career change.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I realized somewhere along the way the value of this position to the park in increasing volunteerism, but also the value to me personally to be a part of the stewardship of a beautiful historic and natural resource. I think that realization brought more commitment from me towards what I do.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
One of the biggest challenges of being a Volunteer Coordinator is working with a lot of different strong personalities (who have been here way longer than me!). That coupled with my tendency of being slow to get to know people probably bogged me down for the first few months. As I gained experience, I learned to take more initiative in conversations and relationships from the beginning. I became more skillful at “interviewing” new volunteers. And I have found how important it is to not just supply bottled water and snacks when volunteers are serving, but to check in on them and work along with them. In becoming more comfortable with meeting new people and deepening relationships with the “old-time” volunteers, I find myself with the blessing of being surrounded by many new friends.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
My organizational skills have been a great aid, particularly when it comes to events. We have three large festival-type of events each year, each requiring around 60 volunteers. I have always enjoyed the planning end of things which gets put to good use around here. Everybody has their own system: mine is emails and sticky notes!
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I received the Volunteer Coordinator Award from Virginia State Parks in 2014 and am very honored, but I think am more gratified by all the new friends I have made at the park.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Get to know your volunteers!
Chippokes Plantation/James Stewart Mansion are included in Plantations of Virginia by Jai Williams and Charlene Giannetti, now available on Amazon.