Celebrating a year of service

This post was originally seen on The Patterson Foundation Blog.

At Sarasota National Cemetery, all Patriot Plaza Guides are volunteers, but not all volunteers are Guides. On June 1, The Patterson Foundation hosted a Guide Appreciation Breakfast as a meaningful tribute to the work and dedication of these special volunteers.

Patriot Plaza is a stunning amphitheater located at the Sarasota National Cemetery that can seat up to 2,800 people. Five large-scale public works of art by nationally recognized artists reside within the Plaza.

The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County was invited to partner with The Patterson Foundation to create an educational program for Guides at Patriot Plaza. In addition to training the guides, we book tours for the Plaza and created educational field trips and materials for students in Grades 4-12 in the Sarasota County Schools. It has been a true pleasure for me to work on behalf of the Alliance to help create these experiences for Patriot Plaza.

PatriotPlazaCommitment to learning
This incredible group of volunteers has committed many hours during the past year in educational classes designed to give them knowledge about the meaning of Patriot Plaza and the featured artworks and artists.

They have mastered information about the materials and processes used by the artists and have memorized dates, names, locations, and more with meticulousness and care. Additionally, they have learned that the most effective way to reach visitors is through engagement – they have sought to perfect their questioning strategies so that curiosity, participation, understanding and reflection is generated in the visitors.  They worked alone and together to practice giving tours to be ready for visitors to Patriot Plaza.

Most importantly, the Guides have developed a camaraderie that reflects the shared dedication they have to Sarasota National Cemetery, veterans and their families. Discussions are always lively, and several of them are masters at humorous quips and retorts – all in good fun. Their personal backgrounds reflect all areas of work in business, medicine, public service and military service. At Patriot Plaza they come together to honor our current military members, our vets, and their families. When thanked, they invariably reply that “it is their honor and pleasure to work as a Guide at Patriot Plaza.” We know that it is work that makes a difference.

Honoring the volunteers
At the breakfast, organizational leaders including Dan Bailey of The Patterson Foundation’s Designation Committee; Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation; Sandy Beckley, Military Initiative Consultant for The Patterson Foundation; Jim Shirley, Executive Director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance; John Rosentrater, Director of Sarasota National Cemetery; and I provided heartfelt words of praise and recognition for all of the Guides. All active Guides will receive a pin that denotes their service, and each year they serve as a Guide an additional bar will be added to this pin.

Pictures of the Guides in action during the past 10 months were shown, in addition to a touching video of four Guides sharing their personal insights through moving stories about the experiences of visitors, vets, and family members that were transformed by the beauty, patriotism, and meaning of the artwork at Patriot Plaza during the past year. There were few dry eyes when the video ended. The Guides and I have been awed as it gradually became very clear to us that the artwork and tours that we provide have made a huge difference in the lives of veterans, their families, students and community members who visit Patriot Plaza.

The appreciation event, which was provided so generously by The Patterson Foundation, came to a close with gratitude flowing in equal measure from the creators of Patriot Plaza to the Guides, and from the Guides to the creators of Patriot Plaza.

I believe that our first year together has been more than we imagined it could be. Our hearts are full, and our dedication is renewed to continue working together to serve the ideals of Patriot Plaza – Honor Service, Inspire Patriotism, and Embrace Freedom.

Public Tours are available each Tuesday at 10AM except for federal holidays.  Private Group Tours and School Tours for students in Grades 4-12 are available upon request.  All Tours are free and open to everyone who is interested.  To schedule a Group or School Tour, contact Cindy Balistreri at the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, 941-365-5118, x301 or cbalistreri@sarasotaarts.org.