Sweat, smiles and success at Tourism Cares in Sacramento

By Michelle Baran
Tourism Cares SacramentoSACRAMENTO, Calif. — Anyone who has volunteered for a Tourism Cares give-back event knows the drill: Arrive at a destination that's been selected by the organization. Set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. And get ready for a day of hard labor.

At Tourism Cares for Historic Sacramento on Sept. 28, I joined about 230 travel industry volunteers as they descended on the state capital and fanned out to work on restoration projects throughout the city: the Historic City Cemetery, Sutter's Fort, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and Old Sacramento, an area of Gold Rush-era structures.

We'd already been assigned to different color-coded teams (in part based on the degree of labor intensity we said we were capable of), and each team had a different task to tackle for the day.

Bruce Beckham, Tourism Cares' CEO, said that tour operators and others familiar with the nonprofit group and the needs of Old Sacramento and Sutter's Fort urged the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau to contact Tourism Cares about the chance to hold a restoration project there. "We're so glad they did," said Beckham.

By about midday there appeared to be a small problem: There might not be enough people to finish painting the schoolhouse by the end of the day. And Tourism Cares cannot leave a project like that unfinished.

Jessica Ahern, director of events for Tourism Cares, soon had a plan: They would bring over some volunteers from the cemetery, where people were relandscaping gravesites, and from Sutter's Fort, where people were helping pave a driveway.

Tourism Cares staff also needed to pick up the videographer from the cemetery, call the motorcoach drivers and, most importantly, check in on all the volunteers to make sure everyone was feeling well-fed and hydrated in the 95-degree Sacramento weather, all the while driving around town with the clock ticking.

But it quickly became clear what gets the Tourism Cares team through the hectic day.

Volunteers greeted Beckham and Ahern with beaming smiles even as sweat beaded their foreheads.

"It's amazing," Beckham said. "They're happy."

Tourism Cares has been organizing these volunteer events since an Ellis Island project in 2003, yet Beckham still seems to be amazed with the willingness of people in the travel industry to donate time and energy to these laborious undertakings — projects that are getting more involved as the program evolves.

Beckham said he thought that some of the work being done in Sacramento was among the most sophisticated Tourism Cares volunteers had executed to date. In order to build wooden trash receptacles for Old Sacramento, one volunteer team was armed with table saws to accurately cut the wood needed to assemble the box structures.

At the cemetery, one volunteer was working with a pretty serious-looking rototiller. And at the fort, volunteers were pounding down a mixture of sand and cement to lay the foundation for repaving the driveway.

Back at the schoolhouse, a redoubled volunteer crew had stepped up their efforts, and it was clear the school would be repainted before the end of the workday.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 
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