Historic Oakland Foundation’s more than 300 active volunteers conduct research, lead tours, work in the gardens, welcome folks in the Visitors Center, help with our Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween tours, and so much more. Our volunteers are at the core of how we fulfill our mission to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery.
I recently posed a question to our volunteers: “What are your top reasons for volunteering with Historic Oakland Foundation?”. The answers I received are as varied as our volunteers themselves, but a pattern did emerge from their responses. I am delighted to share some of their answers to provide a sneak peak of what it’s like to volunteer at the cemetery.
1. Sharing Atlanta’s History
Paige S., “[I] love [volunteering] as a way to engage in hospitality and ‘share my city’ with neighbors and visitors. It’s also a fun form of civic engagement; the more I understand about my city’s past, the more context I have for how to be part of its present and future.”
Oakland reflects the history of Atlanta unlike any other place in the city, and it’s the perfect site to learn about every side of that story. Oakland shares the triumphs and tragedies of our city from the poignant perspectives of those who claim it as their eternal home and provides an interesting setting to learn and reflect. It is, as Cynthia J. remarks, “history without the boring classroom.” Walt H. included that “people with a love of history and Atlanta can’t find a better place to scratch that itch.”
2. A Sense of Fun
Volunteering in a cemetery can be weird and wonderful. At such a distinctive place, you can come across lots of folks that share your unique interests as well as those who always seem a little surprised by what you do. Robyn J. remarked that his top reasons for volunteering included “camaraderie, fun…and the look you get when you tell people you volunteer at a cemetery as a tour guide”. Linda F. chimed in that a stranger overheard her talking to her daughter, and interrupted to ask, “Did you just say, ‘cemetery gift shop’?”. Volunteers at Oakland usually have a good sense of humor (and a standard reply to the question “WHERE do you volunteer?”).
3. Dressing in Costume
Volunteering with Historic Oakland Foundation gives you a surprising number of opportunities to dress to the nines! Our annual special events, including Sunday in the Park and Capturing the Spirit of Oakland, are a celebration of every era of Oakland’s history. With a fully-stocked costume warehouse, volunteers have a blast dressing up to portray residents that lead guests through the cemetery, or simply to show off a favorite ensemble and create a fun and entertaining environment for visitors. But don’t worry—if costumes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of ways to get involved at Oakland in your own clothes. As volunteer Sarah Z.-B. puts it, volunteering at Oakland includes quite a range of benefits, such as “finding meaning in life by facing mortality and free t-shirts.”
4. Something for Everyone
Preserving a cemetery takes a village. There are so many ways to get involved and so many different types of volunteer roles. In response to my query, Lisa M. commented that there is “something for everyone: introverts and extroverts, large public events and solo quiet gardening, left brain and right brain, weekday and weekend shifts…. There’s really no reason to not volunteer with HOF!” Whether your passion is gardening, performing, researching, or engaging with others, there is a place for every type of volunteer and personality at Oakland.
More than any other response, the most frequently cited reason for volunteering at Oakland among our wonderful, passionate, and dedicated volunteers is the sense of community. Oakland’s volunteers are a truly special bunch whom I am personally honored to have the opportunity to know. As volunteer Barbara M. shared, “volunteering at Oakland is like having an extended family of people who all have a connection through their love of its history and beauty. There is an aspect of volunteering that suits all kinds of people, and there are always ways to grow at Oakland. I started volunteering at Oakland when I first moved to Atlanta as a way to learn about my new city and make a connection with others.” Joan F. adds that her top reason to volunteer is “being a part of the wonderful Oakland family, people who love and appreciate Oakland. That no matter who you are, all are important to representing Oakland.”