A creative way to serve your community

Published 10:37 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

Americans have always been volunteers. Giving back to their communities, working with their neighbors, and serving in the military have been positive characteristics of our forefathers and our current families.

Here in the Tri-State area, most of us more closely associated with the Tennessee Volunteers, especially with the University of Tennessee and the well-known athletics teams that bear the name Vols.

Closer home, at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, there are opportunities for residents in our area to join legions of volunteers in serving our community. The park joins employees and partners in parks across the nation to help preserve the nation’s most precious natural, historical, and recreational treasures.

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The program is called “Volunteers-in-Parks” (VIPs). Last year alone, VIPs at Cumberland Gap contributed more than 10,000 volunteer hours, and the work they performed alongside the park staff was valued at $250,000. A great source of help for the park and a great source of pride for the 200 VIPs.

Jarrod Dotson, coordinator of volunteers, says “It’s amazing how much help we get from volunteers.”

A few years ago he started at age 12 as a volunteer at Cumberland Gap. At age 16, he was employed as a staff member, and now he coordinates the program that seeks to unite the strengths of volunteers with the needs of the park.

The start of the spring season, Dotson says, is a good time for anyone interested in volunteering to call him for details about the opportunities or to stop in at the Visitor Center for a volunteer application. Dotson’s telephone number is 606-246-1074; his email address is jarrod_dotson@nps.gov.

Some of the VIPs may work at the Hensley Settlement location, may serve as campground hosts, or contribute their talents at the Visitor Center. The assignments are varied, and the volunteers may range in age from youth in the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to high school and college age students, and to adults of all ages.

Individuals as well as groups are invited to explore VIP offerings. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, a major event for the Tri-State area in 1959 that benefitted tremendously from the leadership and service of volunteers in Bell, Claiborne, Harlan and Lee counties. And, 2019 includes special emphasis on the iron furnace that was started 200 years ago.

A group of nine residents of an Amish community in southern Indiana will be here in early April as volunteers. The fourth-grade STEM students at J. Frank White Academy made important contributions just recently to the park’s need for bridge prototypes that may lead to extra safety for visitors.

A great asset to the region, Cumberland Gap offers equally great challenges for citizens who want to give back to the community by way of service in the VIP program.