Barter Volunteer receives Pinnacle Award05.20.2006
Each year, a Pinnacle Volunteer Award is presented to a non-paid individual who impacts the tourism industry through time, expertise, experience, and financial support or community involvement. This year that volunteer was Jenny Saul, an usher at the historic Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. Following is the nomination essay:
Superb customer service is a critical component to success in any business. Nowhere is this as critical as in a non-profit theatre such as Barter Theatre [in Abingdon, Virginia]. In addition to the many professional employees working together to raise Barter to such a high level of theatre, Barter could not function without the countless volunteer hours given by the community. Individuals and couples from ages 8 to 80-plus work together to help give Barter patrons an enjoyable experience. While most volunteers are ushers, many more work behind the scenes in Group Sales, Marketing, Costumes and other departments within Barter.
Every volunteer is an essential part of Barter's staff and over the last few years one has risen to the top. Before performances Jenny Saul may be seen playing many key roles. She may be staffing the concession stand smiling as she hands a patron a bottle of water, or taking tickets and directing patrons to the proper usher. She may be offering patrons other things to do while in Abingdon. Rest assured, whatever Jenny does, she does it with the patron's pleasure in mind. Jenny's calm nature, ceaseless smile, and indefatigable attention to detail make Barter's guests feel good. Jenny delivers the Barter experience.
Resplendent in the essential burgundy vest and name tag worn by every volunteer usher, Jenny is a cherished and trusted part of the Barter family. Her first year, she contributed about 400 hours. This doubled to 800 annual hours for the next three years and for the past two years Jenny has contributed more than 900 hours of service annually. Think about that — 900 hours a year! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $17.97 is the value per hour of a volunteer. This represents a $16,173 annual donation. While this is amazing, this calculation is simplistic and inaccurate because it assumes that only economic measurements are valuable. It also assumes that volunteers replace paid labor. This reduces volunteerism to hours worked instead of the contribution made. Volunteering is helping, not hiring; giving, not taking; contributing, not counting.
Volunteers create a vibrant atmosphere. Jenny is dynamic, engaged and self-reliant. If you ask Jenny why she volunteers she enthusiastically says, "I love people." And she means it! Jenny came to Barter in 2000, when she accompanied a friend (also a Barter volunteer) to Barter's Annual Volunteer Appreciation event and that's all it took. Jenny was hooked. She shared her name and number with the house manager that night and was thrilled when she was called in to duty almost immediately. While ushers get the fringe benefit of being able to watch the shows, Jenny says that is not the incentive for her. She truly loves people ? fellow employees and volunteers, actors, and of course the patrons. A big thrill for Jenny was meeting Barter Alum, Ernest Borgnine when he returned for a special appearance to benefit Barter.
It is easy to understand why her role has expanded significantly. During the 2005 Virginia Highlands Festival, when Barter offered more programs, served a great many more people and the staff was spread especially thin, Jenny stepped up and served as House Manager for Barter Stage II. Tom Childress, current House Manager and Jenny's supervisor and friend says, "I know if Jenny is working, everything will go just as if I am there myself." Jenny blushed when she heard that. Jenny also very graciously helps with special events like the Barter Bash ? a children's festival, and Plum Alley Day ? when Barter sets up a booth and sells memorabilia in the famed alley. To sum up, where there's a need, chances are you will find Jenny.
Creating a memorable ambiance for the patron starts when they enter Barter's doors. People want to be greeted and guided through the process. Barter volunteers deliver this service. This is one of the main ingredients to keep patrons returning again and again. It takes a huge investment to get folks in the door, but that entrance is just the beginning of the relationship in their eyes. All can be lost within seconds, without exemplary service like Jenny's.
Exceptional service is synonymous with Jenny. She considers Barter folks her second family. She has patrons who regularly return and ask for her. She knows Barter needs her. Her gift of service allows Barter to spend every cent available to do more. Her service does not end when she leaves the premises. Jenny faithfully dons her Barter sweatshirts and T-shirts when she is out and about. Invariably, she says, "People will ask me in the grocery store, 'How's this show?' or 'When is this playing?' " Of course Jenny is happy to take the time to speak with them. Jenny summed up her feelings about her service to Barter, "It's about feeling welcome and needed and serving my community." Barter is proud and honored to have Jenny Saul as our volunteer and friend.