After deboarding an eight-hour international flight, a family of five unable to speak English had five minutes to find their connecting flight gate home. With children ages one to five in tow, the distraught parents handed Susan Barrow their boarding passes.
“I motioned follow me and we ran to their gate,” Barrow said. “The father broke into tears when we got to the gate and thanked me.”
“Their smiles at making the flight were reward enough,” she said.
Barrow, a volunteer with Houston Airports Volunteer Program, said this is one of many stories she has of helping passengers during her 10 years of service.
“I’m passionate about being at the airport,” she said. “It gives my life purpose and meaning, and keeps me mentally and physically active.”
“I stay engaged with people and learn what is happening in the world and how to be a better ‘server’ to all,” Barrow said.
Ella Ghica, volunteer program manager for the Houston Airport System, said despite passionate volunteers like Barrow, there has been a decline in volunteers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were as many as 125 volunteers in 2020, with numbers decreasing to 75 in 2022, she said.
Now, Ghica said she hopes to revamp the program with the aim of increasing the number of volunteers in 2023.
“I want to remind the city of Houston that we have a great volunteer program at both airports,” she said.
Ghica said she plans to implement open houses next year to give potential volunteers some behind the scenes tours and show them what to expect as an airport volunteer.
|Volunteer Program Manager Ella Ghica (middle) is hoping to boost airport volunteer numbers in 2023. Volunteers like Steve Ullery (left) and Ward Schmidt (right) help travelers with an array of services at Houston airports.|
“I want the people to know that the four hours a week they will allocate to the service, they'll really help…make a difference,” Ghica said.
Barrow said a typical four-hour shift consists of her first walking the terminal checking for changes in passenger pick-up, shuttles, or anything else due to the ongoing construction taking place at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Then, Barrow said she turns her attention to passengers that need help with lost luggage, looking up flights, finding gates, shuttles, and even gives suggestions of things to do and see in Houston.
“The questions are never-ending and it really makes this ‘job’ fun,” Barrow said. “If one person leaves with a smile, I have made a difference in at least one life.”
“Usually, we make lots of people smile,” she said.
Ghica sees the program as an extension Houston’s southern charm.
“The stories that I get from the volunteers they are just amazing,” she said. “Sharing the southern hospitality, you know, to our visitors…it just makes a big difference.”
Ghica said volunteers must undergo training, a background check, and commit to a minimum of 16 volunteer hours per month. Volunteers also receive perks like free parking, concessions discounts and are invited to appreciation luncheons.
Barrow believes the program gives people a chance to meet new people and learn new things.
“It’s different from any other volunteer job,” she said. “You will grow in your knowledge of the people and the world and learn about your city and state.”
“It’s fun, enjoyable, and makes every day a brighter day for everyone,” Barrow said.
To learn more about the Airports Volunteer program visit https://www.fly2houston.com/biz/outreach/volunteer-program.