Things I’ll Miss About GVSHP: Part 1

As many readers are probably aware, in January I’ll be leaving my position of 3½ years as GVSHP’s Director of Preservation & Research (shameless plug: apply for my job). It’s a bittersweet move for a host of reasons. Suffice it to say, it’s been an absolute dream to spend my days fighting tirelessly for a cause near and dear to my heart (upon seeing a photo of me picketing in front of NYU, my husband once joked, “I can’t believe you get paid to do this.” Neither can I.). But beyond the cause of preservation, there are a number of things I’ll miss dearly about GVSHP. Over the next few weeks I’ll be devoting posts to some of the hardest things to say good-bye to.

GVSHP volunteers greet visitors during our 2011 House Tour Benefit

As tonight is our annual volunteer thank you party, I thought it appropriate to devote the first post to one of my absolute favorite parts of my job: interacting with our interns and volunteers. GVSHP’s mighty staff of six – large by preservation standards, exceedingly small by any other – can’t do it all alone. We rely on a tireless group of sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time and other times sporadic interns and volunteers to allow our programs to happen, our annual house tour benefit to flow effortlessly, our mailings to be sent out, our research to be completed, and to ensure that a big crowd is there to protest demolition when all other means have been exhausted. As anyone who’s visited our offices can attest, we work primarily out of two small rooms. Working here is a bonding experience, and our volunteers receive first-hand accounts of all the rewards and challenges of operating a small non-profit.

A volunteer shows his love for the South Village

I know our volunteers enjoy learning about what we do here. But their presence here has taught me many valuable lessons as well. Since coming to New York, I have always been that strange one amongst my friends who would walk into a store and notice the crown moldings instead of the actual merchandise. I am still constantly bumping into people on the street because I’m fixated on cornices five and ten stories up. I went to graduate school for historic preservation, where I was, for the first time in my life, relieved to meet a group of people that were exactly like me. It had seemed to me at the time that my experience working for a preservation advocacy organization might feel equally as isolated from the “normal” values of the real world.

Staff and volunteers at our annual patron event

GVSHP’s volunteers have proven me totally wrong. They come to the table from all walks of life – some are young, some are elderly, some are new to the city, and others have lived here their whole lives. Some are students, others are professionals. Some are native Villagers, while others simply dream about it. Very few, like me, actually went to school for this. Yet all are uniting for a common cause: to keep our neighborhoods liveable and lovable. It is our volunteers that remind me daily that preservation means something important and slightly different to each and every person, and that each fresh perspective makes the cause more and more complex – more and more critical.

Based on the retention rate of our interns and volunteers, I have good reason to believe that helping out at GVSHP leaves one feeling fulfilled. I hope they know how fulfilling their presence here continues to be for me and the rest of the GVSHP staff.

If you’re interested in becoming a GVSHP intern or volunteer, let us know!

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Elizabeth

Elizabeth Finkelstein was GVSHP’s Director of Preservation & Research from Summer 2008 to January 2012.