Wright Trust is looking for a few good volunteers

Spring interpreter training lasts three weeks

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

This spring, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is holding training sessions for its two main tourist attractions: the Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park. Training for the Robie House-based interpreters is ongoing, but there is still time to sign up for the Home & Studio training sessions, which will take place from April 18 through May 4.

Linda Bonifas-Guzman, volunteer resource manager for the Trust, said she organizes two cycles each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. Each comprehensive training program is set up to prepare volunteers to lead tours with training that covers everything from public speaking to learning about the history of Wright's architectural practice and buildings.


Three-week session

The first week of training is made up of Tuesday and Thursday evening sessions and a full day on Saturday. Bonifas-Guzman said the evening sessions are almost identical during the first week. 

"Each evening consists of model tours given by the current staff. Tours are based on the same factual information, but everyone writes their own tour, so it's in their own voice. We like to introduce volunteers to a variety of tours."

The first Saturday consists of a workshop on public speaking as well as a third model tour. This session covers the logistics of everything that can happen during a tour — from getting 16 people, point A to point B, to preparing for questions from tourists. During the afternoon, volunteer interpreters begin working on creating their own tour scripts.

The second week of training consists of Tuesday and Thursday evenings and a half day on Saturday. During these sessions, Bonifas-Guzman conducts group and individual exercises. She also brings in trained interpreters who act as mentors, with a ratio of one mentor per three trainees.

"We have such a variety of people who come in for training, from moms to retirees to architecture buffs. Everyone comes to it with a different understanding of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as different backgrounds in public speaking."

For the final week, trainees choose either a Tuesday or Thursday evening time slot to give a dress rehearsal tour to their group and mentor.

Bonifas-Guzman noted that the overall time in class is 30 hours, which includes lectures by Trust curators. On top of this, trainees follow an online reading schedule. Because of the timing of the busy tourist season in Chicago, spring trainees are put right to work.

"Our busy tour season runs April through October, so those people who go through training during the spring hit the ground running," she said.

Time commitment

The Trust flexible on hours, which allows volunteers from all walks of life to fit being an interpreter into the rest of their life. Volunteering four hours a month (48 hours a year) earns a general Trust membership. Bonifas-Guzman said the Trust just started awarding tiered memberships to volunteers, allowing those who devote more time to earn bigger perks.

"Some volunteers give 400 to 500 hours a year, and we wanted a way to acknowledge their time."

Because of the high number of volunteers with the Trust, they're able to help interpreters tailor their commitment to their individual schedules.

"We're very customer-friendly with the scheduling," she said. "On the weekends, we have shifts, and on the weekdays, we have specific tour times."

Volunteers can choose to work the same time on the same day every week or they can volunteer more sporadically. Some volunteers prefer to work with customized tours, from fourth graders to high school architecture students to groups interested in art glass.

The annual Wright Plus walk requires 500 to 600 volunteers, and some volunteers come in specifically for that weekend every year.


Bonifas-Guzman, who started out as volunteer interpreter herself, said one of the perks of volunteering with the Trust is the sense of community that comes with the job.

"We are one of those volunteer situations where, if it's a match for you, you really find your home here," she said. "Long-term friendships, and even a few romances, have begun here."

With about 400 volunteers across all five Trust sites, the network of volunteers is large and dedicated. Bonifas-Guzman pointed out that four volunteers — Jack Lesniak, Peg Zak, Ann Marohn and Steve Sommersand — were involved in the restoration of the Home & Studio and have continued their volunteer efforts for nearly 45 years.

"That kind of longevity is unusual for many organizations, but not for us," she said. "It's not unusual for people to be with us for 10-15 years."

Bonifas-Guzman works to create a volunteer home for Trust interpreters. She began a volunteer share program and organizes field trips for volunteers to other sites and lectures that tie into the architectural interests of the group.

"We have a lot of events that are social," she noted, "but they generally have a learning component. Our volunteers love to socialize, but they love to learn even more."

While all volunteers can earn a membership for working their forty eight hours, Bonifas-Guzman said the top 10 volunteers, in terms of hours, are treated every year to an excursion with a guest. 

"This year, we did a tour of Wrigley Field and a meal afterwards. It's just a way of saying thank you."

A volunteer appreciation party every year celebrates the time and talent given by all volunteers and also recognizes three with special awards: hospitality, above-and-beyond, and rookie-of-the-year.

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Gene Mc Cormack  

Posted: March 15th, 2017 3:23 PM

this is a great organization.i have volunteered since 1985.i have met people that will be friends for the rest of my life.the staff is very supportive and professional.jump in .the waters fine.

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