David Wesley Tonkin
All you need to do is research, with an open mind, and then select a cause, place, event or activity you personally feel stalwartly passionate about. I know now that my due diligence was really worth it. The rewards will go far beyond your expectations.
I started on (jumped right into!) the “usual suspects” … large national charity organizations. That did not last too long. I personally dislike being treated with cool indifference on the phone. Or worse; organizations who would not even return my multiple calls. I am trying to volunteer and they treat me like a nuisance? Some of the volunteer websites were so difficult to navigate that I could not actually find contact information.
My next (and much more erudite!) step was … after a few miss-starts; to really and dispassionately examine two major decision criteria … [a] what am I genuinely zealous about … and [b] where do I have knowledge or experience that is relevant, applicable and useful to others.
The three resultant data points were  a love of military history (Aviation in WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam),  lifelong public speaking experience,  worldwide cross-cultural training delivery and (oh yes!) the resultant joy when people appreciate your message.
Then I initiated my actual search; someplace that matched the self-assessment criteria and was fairly easy to get to … a blessing in the terrible winter we are now emerging from! In my case I found that The Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum (WOFAM) was looking for docents and tour guides … and they are only a few miles away in Horsham PA.
The WOFAM volunteer process was warmly welcoming, quick, detailed, objective-driven and purposeful. After my thoughtfully mentored “apprenticeship” and training I started as a docent on the Saturday Crew. Each Saturday since has be a vivid affirmation that I made an excellent choice!
The personal recompense has been colossal! I have been privileged on two counts; to work with such intelligent, captivating and exuberant fellow team mates is an honor … and to welcome to the museum a totally prodigious spectrum of interesting and in some cases very unique people. People that have abundantly brought me deep reflection, respect, humility, amazement and their riveting and spellbinding personal stories.
They range in age from a WWII Pacific theater carrier-based naval aviator, a General who served during both the Korea and Vietnam eras to a pleasant and articulate 12-year old doing research on the Fokker E.III Eindecker fighter and scout aircraft from WW1 for an advanced history paper! Oh, bye-the-bye I also met Sergeant Leatherneck … a Bulldog that is a Marine Corps mascot!
One thing you soon learn is that you have to rid yourself of stereotypes. Not all of today’s 5 to 10 year olds that come to the museum with parents or Scouting leaders are brats! In fact the majority are quiet, respectful and often ask searching questions; frequently from totally different (and fresh) perspectives then you are used to. You also shed gender stereotypes … several of the most reflective and earnest visitors are girls who have an interest in a military aviation career.
World geography and political boundaries also fall by the wayside. Recently we welcomed a delightful young couple originally from Tallinn in the Republic of Estonia and now living in Paris (France); they were in the USA on work assignments and their honeymoon! They took masses of pictures (especially selfies!) … including a group portrait of themselves with the docent crew; who they said made their visit so memorable. My “tally” of visitor countries includes Canada, UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, India, South Africa and Brazil. These international visitors challenge you to tell the story of the aircraft and numerous unique artifacts on display so that they can relate to them from their unique perspectives; it brings a whole new essence of urgency to the term “thinking on your feet”!
Interestingly; one of the most popular exhibits is a showcase filled with examples of survival rations and emergency equipment for the use of downed aircrews from the WW2, Korea and Vietnam periods. We now jokingly refer to it as the “gourmet military food display”. Another popular attention “grabber” is the series of exhibits that show the evolution of flying suits from WW1 to Desert Storm. The most talked about aircraft in the collection … The Warthog … The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and the Bell H-13 Sioux helicopter … of M*A*S*H fame !
All of this is vivid illustration of the depth, scope, range and variety of personal experiences … new learning and sheer fun that come so naturally as your “gift” in return for volunteering! Get out there and find your passion! You might talk to someone who will work on Mars landing missions in the future … or paint with the passion of Vincent van Gogh … and maybe an individual who one day will write epics like Leon Uris or John Steinbeck!
The two photographs in this blog were taken by the author at the 2011 Reading Air Show & WW2 Weekend. The opinions expressed in the blog are entirely those of the author alone.
For your information:
The Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum is a non-profit all volunteer organization. The Museum is dedicated to preserving the civil and military aviation history of the world and especially of the Greater Delaware Valley. The Museum is located along Route 611 (Easton Road) between Maple Avenue and County Line Road in Horsham, PA.