Getting settled into the Volunteer Village is like moving into a neighborhood. Our new neighborhood is tucked along the Estero River and has just one street made of hard packed sand and crushed shells. A total of about twenty of us, living in RVs and travel trailers and 5th-wheelers, make up this temporary community of travelers volunteering at Koreshan State Historic Park in Estero, Florida. All were here when we arrived, making us the “new kids on the block”.
We were welcomed into the Village by the volunteer supervisor, Ron, and his warm and friendly wife, Joan. Our campsite is directly across from the bathrooms and showers, which is wonderfully convenient. We discovered clotheslines for air-drying laundry, which presents the delightful prospect of sleeping on sheets that have dried in the generous Florida sun.
Peter and I were each given a set of keys since we are working in different buildings in the settlement. Our assignment is to be docents, which means we are stationed in one of the two important buildings in the village. (I’ll explain our assignments a bit later in this post). Ron showed us where to get our mail, and shared the different address we will be using for post office deliveries or FedEx and UPS. A couple of nights ago we met for pizza and sub sandwiches in the Village hall (other resident and some of the local area volunteers) with the park ranger for updates about events and important news about the park that can impact our work.
Some of you have asked about the requirements for this volunteer assignment. We are required to put in a minimum of 32 hours each week, between the two of us. In return for the commitment, we are given a campsite (with water and electric). Full hook-ups are available in the front of the Village but are all occupied by the more senior bank of volunteers. It turns out the full hook-up sites are also much closer to the very busy Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) and so are much noisier than ours.
The park requests at least a three-month commitment from volunteers. Since this is a pretty popular place to be during the high season (January through March) we were told it could be hard to get accepted then since there is a cadre of veteran volunteers with seniority. Knowing that, we decided to commit to November, December and January figuring it would give us a competitive advantage since most snowbirds like to be “home for the holidays”. Since we travel with our home, we jumped in and got the assignment.
Toward the middle of each month, we let Ron know if there are appointments or other commitments that would prevent us from working certain shifts in the upcoming month. We also let him know if there are days we prefer to work. Then, he creates the schedule using the pool of available volunteers. We are given 4-hour shifts of either 9:00am to 1:00pm or 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Now that we are into our first month, we are learning more about scheduling and finding time for essentials like walks, hikes and bike rides and we may tweak our December shift requests accordingly.
There is a wide range of tasks volunteers perform here. Several of our neighbors are campground hosts which means they will be working the campground in the back of the park, cleaning sites when visitors leave, cleaning the bathhouse and showers, and addressing other campground issues. Some of our neighbors are performing maintenance and repair work (most of them are retired electricians, carpenters, or mechanics) on buildings and structures around the park. Some are working in the ranger station processing guests and collecting admission fees. Four of us are serving as docents.
When I applied for the job, the park ranger for whom the volunteers work initially thought she would ask me to help with some organizational activities. She thought she might have Peter help with the Farmer’s Market. So far, that isn’t what she has asked of either of us. She has assigned us both to be trained as docents in the two buildings in the settlement. This means that we need to have a good basic understanding of the history of the settlement, and of Dr. Teed’s story so when guests arrive we can answer questions they have.
I am very enthusiastic about the settlement and I also love providing a lot more of an overview of the historical context, if guests seem interested. This has already led to some amazing conversations with some of the guests. The other day, I had a rich conversation with a man who was a retired Catholic priest who was really knowledgeable about the religious revival and utopian communities in New England in the late 1800s. Another guest had studied numerology and explained the significance of some of the symbols and geometric patterns Teed used in laying out the settlement. One of my fellow docents, with a PhD in psychology, has studied Teed’s writings and shared some of his insights into some of the human behavior traits Teed exhibited, revealing a complexity in the charismatic leader that is interesting and all very cool.
Docents can also be trained to give walking tours of the settlement. Right now in the “low season”, the tours are led by the rangers on Saturday and Sunday at 10:00am. During the “high season”, starting in January, there are two tours a day, five days a week and so my thinking is that if I become more familiar with the other parts of the settlement (like the industrial area where the steam plant, the laundry, the bakery were sited) I might volunteer for walking tours in January. And I can volunteer to work special events. This afternoon, for instance, the Art Hall (my assigned area) will be the site of a chamber music performance. I will help set up the room and then I get to experience the concert.
As we all know when moving into a new neighborhood, there are essential services to locate. For us, at the top of the list is the public library. We found it and for a very nominal fee, joined as seasonal visitors and now we have a rich offering of movies and books available about 15 minutes from our Village. Publix (the local supermarket) is nearby, along with the post office, the bike repair shop and all of the retailers one could need. Camping World and Total Wine and Spirits, both in Fort Myers, have already seen us cross the threshold in what will certainly be the first of countless visits. Peter just made an appointment to see the orthopedist he met last year when his hip was acting up (this is a preventative visit, no problems to report) and last year, I established myself as a patient at the local women’s health center.
Our first Sunday here we returned to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in nearby Bonita Springs which we found when we came here last December to camp. Last week we learned about some seasonal volunteering activities, including gathering and distributing food to a nearby seasonal agricultural workers’ village, which we will both be doing starting the week before Thanksgiving.
And then there are the Gulf beaches. We have already experienced some incredible sunsets at Bonita Beach and have a list of another half-dozen to explore, including Sanibel and Captiva, all within 30 minutes of us.
I am reminded that we, like the original settlers of Koreshan, came from away, carved out a new community along this little river, watched the sunsets and the moon rising and smelled the damp earth and brushed sand from our feet at the end of the day. We are grateful for this shared experience and for being here. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough”.
Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, stopping to volunteer at Koreshan State Historic Park in Estero, Florida, for three months in their Airstream.