New volunteer coordinator takes to the rails
October 2, 2008 · Updated 3:24 PM
When Jennifer Youngman checked in at the Northwest Railway
Museum to assume the duties of Volunteer Program Coordinator, she
admittedly didn't know much about railroads.
Within three days, Youngman was taking her railroad rules test. A
week later she was undergoing training as a rear brakeman on the Saturday
excursion from Snoqualmie Depot to North Bend and back.
Now a "veteran" of three weeks with the museum, Youngman is
the first to admit the pace has been rather startling. However, she also
ventures she is having "an absolutely wonderful time here."
The Ogden Dunes, Ind., native officially started as the museum's
first full-time volunteer program coordinator the second week of September.
She arrived in Snoqualmie via the scenic route, having previously served as
the visitor services manager for the Snohomish County Tourism
Bureau. Her first tour in the Evergreen State, however, came 23 years ago, when
she worked a summer as a seasonal backcountry ranger with the
National Park Service (NPS) at Mount Rainier.
Youngman said she did additional summers with the NPS at
Indiana Dunes National Recreation Area in Indiana and Isle Royale National
Park in Michigan before graduating from Principe College in Elsah, Ill. Then
she started "hopping all over the country."
"I hopped back here a couple of times," she commented. "I came
back to a nursing home as activities director and volunteer manager. That
was my first involvement with volunteer activities. I then went to Boston
for seven years and got a lot of writing and management experience."
After the lengthy stay in Massachusetts, she decided it was time
to move, preferably back to Washington.
"I'm not a city person," said Youngman. "I didn't know what I
was going to do next, so I just packed up and moved. I got a cabin on
Whidbey Island and got into new things, such as public speaking and teaching
at Skagit Valley Community College.
"The biggest thing I got into - it was a totally new turn for me -
was historical dance. I met someone who was really into Victorian Era and
Ragtime dance. I got into it, started teaching, and eventually developed an
offshoot for seniors at the Whidbey Senior Center. It renewed my interest
At the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau Youngman started as a
volunteer coordinator and subsequently moved up to the visitor services
manager position. After a period, though, she decided she missed having
direct contact with people. The position with the railroad museum soon followed.
"To have someone in here full time, focusing on the volunteer
program, is very important," she said of her job. "Also having someone
here full time is very important for retention. We can determine forms of
recognition and provide one point of contact for volunteer concerns and
Building up the volunteer base at the museum is high on her list of
priorities. Over the winter, Youngman will be putting a volunteer
retention program in place, in and around recruiting new personnel.
"We need more volunteers," she said. "We're recruiting restoration
or collection technicians, and are developing other possibilities, such as
archival assistant, gardeners, bookstore or gift shop assistants, and docents.
"We do get people visiting here year `round, and it would be nice
to have someone here to answer questions and give short tours."
Her other duties involve media contact, keeping the Web site
updated, and working with children's programs. She rates the latter as one of the
highlights of the job.
"One thing I'm really proud of is the `Cecil the Diesel Club' for
children 10 and under," Youngman stated. "When a child joins they get a
packet with postcards, a certificate for a gift from the bookstore - right now it's
a train whistle - a membership card, and a couple of coloring books, plus a
subscription to the newsletter.
"The aim of it is fun, safety and education. On one train trip, I
spent time talking to kids, learning what they were interested in. I rated that as
a valuable experience."
Between the kids, the volunteer program, and day-to-day activities
at the museum, Youngman feels the organization is fulfilling its mission
of "keeping the excitement of railroading alive."
"I don't feel we're recreating something, like at a place like
Plymouth Village in Massachusetts," she said. "We have a high degree of
authenticity, but this is the real thing. It's today."
Throw in several acres of heavy metal, a strong staff and group of
outstanding volunteers, and the new coordinator feels she's in exactly
the right place at the right time. Youngman said the museum position is a
perfect melding of people-contact and the skills she already possesses.
Learning how to operate a train doesn't hurt, either.
"The volunteers we have here are exceptional," she added. "I love
learning from them and training with them. If there are any women out there
who are tentative, I'd recommend they come by, because the reception
I've received has been so good.
"It feels really natural to be here, and I am so happy."