The city’s Office of Volunteer Services has a new program that is well-suited for an army of community do-gooders. It’s been less than a month since the Columbia Hospitality Corps took ambassadorial reign over the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and already dozens of volunteers have pledged to help tourists in any way they can.
Reaching out to Columbia visitors
Columbia Hospitality Corps volunteers assist at the Lake of the Woods Visitors Center, the Columbia Regional Airport and special events and festivals that attract tourists, said Leigh Nutter, volunteer coordinator for the Office of Volunteer Services.
“Basically it’s been set up to simply aid travelers coming to and through Columbia,” volunteer Diane O’Hagan said. “We’re there to talk about attractions: where to eat, where to stay and where to have fun.”
O’Hagan and her husband, David, have administrative responsibilities in the new program. As retired staff members from Columbia College, the O’Hagans are free to roam the countryside.
“My husband and I travel a lot, so we tend to make use of other visitor centers,” Diane O’Hagan said. “Since we’ve been to so many, we know what people want to hear about.”
What it takes to be a volunteer
O’Hagan said volunteers must fit specific criteria.
“People need to be positive about what they’re doing,” she said. “They must be very outgoing and very friendly. They’re the first people tourists will meet, so we want to leave a good impression about what our town is like. They must be knowledgeable about the things Columbia has to offer. In fact, (my husband and I) are getting educated about things in Columbia that we didn’t even know about when we started.”
She said it helps for volunteers to have an exceptional knowledge of Missouri in general.
“Some people stop in Columbia on their way to the Lake of the Ozarks, Kansas City, St. Louis or Branson, so we have information about the state tourist attractions available to them,” she said.
Serving Columbia by helping others
“You have to be a people person to like this kind of stuff,” volunteer Sue Reiskamp said. “Volunteering is my thing. I’ve been in Columbia my whole life, practically. I really feel like I know the town as well as anyone.”
Volunteers are required to serve at least four hours a month. There are 30 to 35 members in the Columbia Hospitality Corps, and more are joining every day.
“I think the more local people hear about it, the more volunteers we’re getting,” O’Hagan said. “We still need more people to keep it manned all the time. The same group of people seem to volunteer at several places and can only give a limited amount of time for each of them.”