Docent Corps Takes Portland

Add Pizzazz to Your Event with a Master Docent® Volunteer Guide

While being trained as a volunteer tour guide for a botanical garden in Portland, Oregon, I was encouraged to upgrade my work to that of a “docent,” like you find in museums and art galleries. This enhancement included using scientific names for plants instead of the common names. The first time I used the term Arctostaphylos uva-ursi with a tour group, a few members snickered. Nevertheless, I was determined to act like a docent, whether the unschooled liked it or not. So a few months later, when Portland launched its Master Docent® training program, with only 30 privileged candidates to be accepted into the inaugural class, I applied immediately.

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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Terry Glase, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Like similar programs around the country that produce Master Gardeners, Master Composters, and Master Recyclers, the Master Docent Program is designed to appropriate idle time from retirees and eco-zealots in order to staff public programs otherwise starved for funding. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Portland ranks sixth in the nation for volunteerism, behind Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Rochester. (I can understand why Salt Lake City is ahead because of all those white-shirted young Mormons on bicycles, but what’s with the Midwest?) Also, Portlanders can breathe a sigh of relief that Seattle moved down to seventh place after beating the Rose City the previous year. Regardless, why does Seattle, with its exorbitant sales tax, need so many volunteers to run the city, anyway?
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