New volunteer coordinator takes to the rails

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.

No problem.

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

in history."

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."

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