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The Value in Volunteering

Volunteers are a vital part of the History Colorado family, and donating time and expertise can be a great vehicle for finding that perfect niche.

The path to a job, especially one you come to love, can be a bumpy dirt road or a smooth superhighway—and maybe a bit of both. But becoming a volunteer for an organization you care about can be an excellent way to gain experience while giving back to your community, and might open doors that a resume alone cannot. Who knows, you may even find your dream job along the way.  

We asked several History Colorado staff who began their careers with the organization through volunteering, interning, or both to tell us about that experience. Employee data shows more than 25 percent of the current History Colorado staff began their careers with a volunteer or intern program. Here’s some of what these folks had to say about that experience:

Lindsey Flewelling, Preservation Planner  “For historic preservation programs, there are a lot of nuances that may be difficult to learn unless you are working in the field. Being an intern was vital to understanding how preservation programs work at the national, state, and local levels.”

Julia Mayben, Special Events Manager  “I loved the idea of getting involved with History Colorado [as a volunteer with the Membership and Philanthropy team] and doing something outside of advertising and marketing, the arena I had worked in for 25 years.” 

Katie Bates, Contract Specialist for the State Historical Fund  “Having work experience is most important to getting a job. After a volunteer job [with History Colorado], I left and got some non-history, non-museum job experience which helped me be a more qualified candidate. I would also recommend networking and building relationships so people know who you are and remember you when you apply.”

Shaun Boyd, Curator of Archives  “Not everything turns into a job immediately so [it’s important to] keep in touch with the people you work with; you never know what might come up.”

Shanea Ewing, Director of Membership  “I learned about volunteering online through History Colorado’s website. After becoming a volunteer, I got a part time job in Guest Services. Once in the network of volunteers and interns, I learned about a Reservations Coordinator job.” Shanea got that job and went on to serve as Guest Services Manager, before becoming the Director of Membership. 

Jeremy Morten, Exhibit Developer and Historian  “I started as Education Coordinator at El  Pueblo History Museum, moved to Education Coordinator for community museums, then back to Denver as Public Engagement Manager, and am now an exhibit developer and historian.” Jeremy’s advice: “Try to stay involved in as many ways as possible; you never know what might get you a job, and at the very least you'll learn what you like and don't like to do.”

Kellie Carroll, Education Director at the Ute Indian Museum  “It took my taking intern positions and applying for the [Education Director] job twice to get the full-time position. There wasn’t really a key to my success; just being loyal and not giving up, especially when I didn’t get it the first time.”

Amy Nilius, Head of Data Management & Digital Projects  “Keep working toward your goals. It’s difficult after you graduate, and you expect to land a job but it doesn’t happen. Volunteering and interning can be a great opportunity to gain skills and network. Make every opportunity a learning experience.”

Kim Kennedy White, John W. Emery Family Associate Curator of Oral History  “I started at the old Colorado History Museum back in 2000 as a collections intern. I was working on my PhD and had two little kids and wanted some hands-on experience. My key to success was to think ahead about my ‘future me’ and to seek opportunities to develop needed skills and knowledge.” In 2021–2022, Kim with her PhD, came back to History Colorado as a volunteer and then was selected to fill the Curator of Oral History position.

Margaux Miller, Guest Services, Front Desk, and Volunteer Coordinator at the Center for Colorado Women’s History  “I began my work with the Center for Colorado Women’s History as a volunteer interested in tour-guiding. Lo and behold, I found myself in the right place at the right time. After a short period of time, I was invited to join the staff in a part-time position. Along the way, what proved to be a ‘key to success’ was staying in touch with my own north star, which was finding work at a place that represented my interests and values.”

Josie Chang-Order, School Programs Manager  “Prior to my PhD life, I taught archeology at the Crow Canyon Archeological Center for six years. When I stepped into the [Living West Mesa Verde exhibition on a field trip] I saw my friends in the photos throughout the space. It seemed like a sign!” Josie’s advice: “Show up and do good work! Get to know the people on your team and across the organization and understand what you personally love and do well.”

Keith Valdez, Guest Services Manager  “My college advisor was Dr. Nicki Gonzales at Regis University and she prompted me to take internships at Fort Garland and then at History Colorado Center. I went in with a mindset that if I didn’t get a certain opportunity, eventually there would be more. There were a few positions I applied for that I did not receive. Don’t get discouraged if [the right job] doesn’t happen right away.”  

Michelle Phair, Cultural Resource Information/GIS Specialist II  “Volunteering and internship allowed me to further explore what direction I wanted to go with my interests, and ‘dip my toes in the water’ of an office-based position.”  What Michelle says to those starting out: “Build yourself a life and career and follow the opportunities that come. You can always have a mental ‘dream job,’ but don't limit your dreams based on what you currently know. Allow your dreams to grow (and change) with you.”

All of these highly successful History Colorado staff members clearly benefited from their time as volunteers, and their experiences and advice seem to reflect that volunteering and internships provide important job experience. Plus, establishing a good network through such a role can be critical to finding a satisfying position. Persistence can be the key: Don’t give up if the first run at a particular position doesn’t work out.  

To all you volunteers and prospective interns out there, or friends and family advisors of potential History Colorado staff, keep the advice of these staff members in mind. Consider the volunteer or intern path and you might just end up on that smooth superhighway to a great job with an award-winning organization like History Colorado!

The History Colorado family of museums and sites has a wide variety of online and in-person volunteer positions available. Follow this link to learn more about how you can help tell Colorado’s story!