Ringing Our Own Bells: Exceptional Docents
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson AZ
In September 2002, docents at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson celebrated 30 years of the docent program, and 50 years of the museum’s existence. The Education Department agreed to use this opportunity as a way of quantifying what was already presumed: that the docents are a special group of people who are highly satisfied with their lives and with their experience of volunteering as docents at the museum.
There is very little in the literature that reports studies of the docent experience. As a gerontologist I am interested in studying people as we age, particularly the so-called “successful aging” and in conjunction with a sociologist colleague we devised a short survey to test our hypothesis. The survey was sent to 225 current and recently retired docents, and 131 were returned for a 58% response rate. Of those who responded, 68% were 60 or older, 70% women, and 67% are currently married, 55% have a master’s degree or above, and 9% are currently employed. 83% of the respondents volunteer elsewhere in a wide array of settings.
Life satisfaction was identified using an indexed version of Neugarten, Havinghurst and Tobin’s Life Satisfaction Index (1961), a standard and well tested sociological tool. Some of the findings include the following: Docents who volunteered elsewhere reported greater life satisfaction than those who did not. Greater number of hours volunteered at the museum tends to be associated with reports of greater life satisfaction.
Women reported that being a docent yielded friendships more often than men. Volunteering provides an opportunity for non-workers to develop friendships, not simply new acquaintances.
The volunteers at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum fit the profile of older volunteers in terms of uncommitted time available, health, education and socioeconomic status. One of the challenges of the museum is to entice more docents and volunteers who represent the rich ethnic heritage of the Southwest. We also need to find creative ways to encourage more working people to volunteer in various roles, as well as recruit younger volunteers. As well look to the future, we know that our 30 years of the docent program is just the beginning of enriching lives for decades to come.
Thirty Years of Making the World a Better Place
Submission for Symbiosis, the publication of AZAD
Dr. Marge Drugay