Volunteer greeters orient visitors to Juneau, one question at a time

Juneau resident Michelle Storer has been a volunteer greeter for the Juneau, Convention and Visitors Bureau for 33 years.

“I think it’s a great way to meet people and create new relationships,” Storer said. “I’m not shy and I like to engage with others, so it’s a good fit for me.”

Storer first started volunteering shortly after moving to Juneau in May of 1983. She used to pass out maps and answer questions from people getting off the cruise ship once a week.

More recently, she’s volunteered onboard Princess Cruises ships, where she sits at a table and answers questions.

“Everybody who’s getting off the ship wants to know what’s where and how to do things, like where’s the glacier? It’s as simple as, where is downtown?” she said.

Storer said visitors may ask where the quilting shop is or how to go charter fishing. Someone once asked her where to buy underwear.

On Sundays, Storer and her husband volunteer at the information kiosk downtown.

“We get a lot of church questions,” Storer said. Many churches provide shuttles for tourists. Or, “Too many come and ask, ‘Where is the Starbucks?’”

Storer is one of about 130 volunteer greeters with the Juneau, Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit organization funded by the City and Borough of Juneau and about 300 local businesses, according to its website.

The volunteers staff four locations in the summer ­— the cruise ship terminal, Marine Park, Juneau International Airport and the ferry terminal. The airport is staffed year-round.

“Our volunteers are pleasant and happy and when visitors are coming into Juneau, it makes us a friendlier town,” said Kara Tetley, visitor information services manager at JCVB.

The greeters help visitors find tours, attractions, restaurants, shops and places to stay.

Last year volunteers put in about 5,000 hours and helped 185,000 visitors, Tetley said. The busiest volunteer time is during the cruise ship season, May through September. This year, the first ship arrives April 30 and the last one leaves October 1.

Volunteers range from high school graduates to retirees.

“We ask that they commit to a summer and they have regular shifts — the same time, the same place — and we can rely on our volunteers doing that,” Tetley said.

Despite the large number of volunteers, Tetley said JCVB is looking for more. With volunteers traveling over the summer or getting sick, she said there are always holes in the schedules.

Trainings are offered in April and May. The committed volunteer get some perks, like discounts on sightseeing activities through “familiarization tours” and a volunteer appreciation event at the end of the summer.

For Storer, the primary perk is meeting the visitors. She recalled meeting a young couple visiting Juneau on their honeymoon in the late 1980s. The husband was a fireman, had been injured and was in a wheelchair. Storer said this was during a time before most things were accessible to all abilities, so the couple was limited in what they could do.

“I told them, ‘Come back here at noon. We’re going to go to the glacier,’” Tetley said. She put the husband’s collapsible wheelchair in her trunk and drove them around Juneau doing different things.

This isn’t normal volunteer activity, but Storer felt for the couple.

“I got a nice letter from them. They were so sweet,” Storer said, pointing out that most tourist attractions and transportation are now accessible for all abilities.

On another occasion, she and her husband helped a man from Pittsburgh whose wife had gone on a helicopter tour.

“We told him, ‘We’re going to be in Pittsburgh in three weeks,’ and he said, ‘Come visit me,’” Storer said. Storer and her husband did just that, “and we were friends with him until he passed away.”

Storer anticipates being a volunteer greeter for many more years.

“To me it’s like an exchange. I have the ability to do something and when I travel, which I do often, I need help a lot of times and there’s always someone to help me,” she said.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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