Built in 1887, the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City was the first great house of worship built in America by East European Jews. Once one of the busiest synagogues in the country, the building was closed in the 1950s and fell into disrepair. Today, however, following a 20-year, $18.5 million restoration, this National Historic Landmark has reopened to the public as the Museum at Eldridge Street. Volunteers were crucial to the success of the renovation effort and continue to play a central role in maintenance and interpretation of the building.
Forty volunteer docents help develop and implement a broad range of interpretive programs. They conduct 11 tours a day, five days a week, for 30,000 national and international visitors annually and also maintain the gift shop. Absent this volunteer effort, the museum would need to hire six additional staff members to fulfill these functions at a cost of $312,000 a year, an almost 25 percent increase in its operating budget. The volunteer docents also assist in running more than 50 cultural events a year and in creating educational content for museum publications, audio guides, text panels, interactive computer kiosks, and other interpretive media.
The Museum at Eldridge Street has developed a comprehensive Volunteer Development Program that focuses on recruitment, training, scheduling, and evaluation of its volunteers. Docents participate in six workshops annually as well as field trips to other area museums. The success of the Volunteer Development Program is reflected in the museum’s 98 percent rate of volunteer retention over a year of service and the high motivation level of its volunteers.
Designated a Preserve America Steward in February 2010.