As of January 10, we now how a full complement of RV volunteers at Fort Frederica National Monument. Susan and Steve Jennings were the last arrivals at Volunteer Village and they are a wonderful addition to the workforce here at Fort Frederica. More than any other place we have worked, Fort Frederica depends on the volunteers for much of its programming. So I will be highlighting some of the different volunteers, why they are volunteering, and what they do.
The first couple I want to highlight is Susan and Steve Jennings. Like all the RV volunteers they are retirees who are willing to live in their RV for a few months at a time. This is their first time volunteering at a national park site. They have homes in Nacogdoches, Texas, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. But while they are here, they are living in a Citation motorhome, which is even smaller than our motorhome. Steve retired a while ago and was a Chemical Engineer. Susan retired about three years ago and was a Business Technology Professor at Stephen F. Austin State University. They are also United Methodists, which means we have lots of things in common.
Susan says she decided to apply to volunteer because they had some friends who had volunteered at state and national parks and had a good experience. Steve says he volunteered because Susan made him. Steve seems good-natured about being dragged into things. Susan also volunteered because she likes talking to people, being out in nature, and learning new things.
Susan visited volunteer.gov in December, thinking about volunteering someplace in 2022. She saw the notice for Interpretive Volunteers at Fort Frederica and put in their application. At the end of December, Ranger Michael called her and said Fort Frederica had an unexpected vacancy – could they come right away? They left Hot Springs, returned to Nacogdoches, packed up the RV, and arrived here ten days later.
Because they have never been National Park volunteers before, Susan and Steve Jennings weren’t sure what to expect. But they came ready for anything and eager to experience something new. They had two days of training in the Visitors Center and caught on very quickly. Tom and I helped them find living history clothes so they could be outside with us on the weekends. After their weekend, they came to work on the next Saturday ready to learn how to do living history.
Steve and Tom got the fire going, with Tom explaining the quirks of starting a fire in the very wet Georgia climate. I talked to Susan about cooking and hearth fires. I cooked Brunswick Stew and baked cornbread on Saturday with both of them watching and listening. Tom gave Steve the British soldier talk and prepped him on common questions visitors ask. Both Steve and Susan are extremely quick studies. By the afternoon, both of them could give the cooking talk or the soldier talk. They were also really good about explaining the palmetto hut.
Susan caught on so quickly to cooking that we pulled out the candle making demonstration and she helped children dip their own candles most of the day. After reading the several sheets on candle making in the Program Guide, she knew almost as much about candle making as I do. Steve was so good at the soldier talk that Tom felt free to work in the blacksmith’s shop during the afternoon.
It was really nice to have the Jennings working with us on Saturday. Susan plans to read more about candle making so she can make the talk her own. Steve was happy tending the fire and talking to people about being a colonial soldier. We were very busy on that Saturday (Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend) that there were many times when all four of us were talking to groups of people about what we were doing. We had well over 300 visitors that day.
It was our intention to do living history together again on Sunday, but we had a heavy rain Sunday morning. Instead of trying to be outside in the living history area, we all worked in the Visitors Center. Tom and I took some of our living history stuff out when it got sunny in the afternoon. We were happy to leave the Visitors Center in Susan and Steve’s competent hands.
After only a week, I asked the Jennings what they thought about volunteering at Fort Frederica. They said they were enjoying it and liked feeling they were giving something back to the National Parks. But they also said it was more physical work than they expected and they were tired at the end of the day.
Susan and Steve Jennings can only stay through the end of February because of previous commitments at home. But we are glad to have them for as long as they are here. They will be volunteering at a state park in the spring and will be able to compare it to their time working here. I hope they enjoy both these new experiences and will continue to volunteer.