On December 16, 2001, the Kimmel Center first opened its doors to the public — and earned glowing reviews. “A world class arts center at last for a world class city,” praised one report. .
George Ahern of Broomall certainly agreed. He was there for the opening, but not as a visitor. Instead, Ahern had signed up to be a Kimmel Center volunteer and was on hand to help direct visitors.
“Everyone was overwhelmingly impressed,” he said.
Kay Rinko of Swarthmore was also there as a volunteer.
“Everyone was awestruck,” she said.
That was just the start for both of these Delco volunteers. In December, they will mark 17 years of unstinting service.
During all these years, hardly missing a single day, they’ve come to the Kimmel Center at Broad and Spruce Streets for their assigned shifts twice a month. Rinko’s shift is Tuesday mornings; Ahern’s is either Saturday or Sunday.
When they arrive, they take their place at the information desk in the lobby, a large semicircular structure where visitors can stop to ask questions or pick up an array of brochures on current and future performances.
Two volunteers are always stationed behind the desk, ready and eager to answer questions and give information. Typically, visitors ask what events are happening that day or evening. Or they want to know about a future event. Other questions cover the gamut from queries about the architecture to the location of the restrooms.
“We have to know as much as we can about everything. It’s an ongoing learning process.” said Rinko. “Even though I’m familiar with many performances, new events are added and they are posted on the website.”
“When people say, ‘What’s happening today?’ we can access information quickly and easily on the website,” she said. Besides the well-detailed website, the volunteers also read daily information sheets about events going on that day. .
With eight resident companies, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, plus varied special events presented by the Kimmel Center, there are numerous performances for the volunteers to to keep track of.
Then, too, the Kimmel Center is an umbrella organization for performances in three separate buildings. Besides the headquarters at Broad and Spruce, there’s the Academy of Music where opera, ballet, touring Broadway musicals and other events take place. There’s the Merriam Center which also hosts Kimmel Center events. Keeping up to date with all this is an ongoing challenge.
Twice a year, all the volunteers have training programs with Kimmel Center staff.
“We usually have a guest speaker from one of the resident companies, plus a speaker who is part of senior management,” said Ahern. “In the fall, we’re informed about what’s coming up that season. In spring, we find out about spring and summer programs. The rest is geared to customer service and skills.”
Meeting and interacting with the many visitors to the Kimmel Center is a highlight for the volunteers. They especially enjoy doing what they call “sneak peeks” of Verizon Hall, where the Philadelphia Orchestra performs.
When there are no concerts taking place, the volunteers are allowed to give visitors a peek at this spacious concert hall with its striking architecture. Rinko especially recalled doing this for a Russian family.
“Except for the daughter, they couldn’t speak English, but they were just amazed by the beauty of Verizon Hall,” she said.
Similarly, on a recent Saturday, Ahern met three women visiting from Israel.\
“They’d heard so much about the Kimmel Center and wanted to see the building,” he said. “it was a slow time so I was able to show them the interior of Verizon Hall and they were so impressed.”
Even when they’re not giving sneak peeks, Rinko and Ahern enjoy interacting with visitors.
“I’ve literally met people from across the U.S. and around the world,” said Ahern. “Philadelphia excels in arts and culture and that’s a draw that brings people to our region.”
For instance, on one recent Saturday, Ahern met two women from China.
“They specifically wanted to hear the world famous Philadelphia Orchestra in its own home,” he said.
Besides meeting visitors from far and near, another benefit for the volunteers is that free tickets are occasionally offered. Even when a ticket isn’t free, there’s an incentive to attend performances because these volunteers know so much about them.
“The performances have expanded my horizons,” said Ahern. “I might never have gone to a chamber concert, but I was exposed to it thanks to my volunteering.”
Rinko, too, has enjoyed new experiences. Last fall, she attended her first Philadelphia Orchestra family concert. These are especially geared to young audiences. She took her granddaughter Saya and it was a highlight for both. Afterwards, they even met the conductor who greeted audience members in the lobby.
In December it will be 17 full years that Ahern and Rinko have been Kimmel Center volunteers- and they still enjoy it every time they come.
“Meeting so many visitors and interacting with them is what I enjoy most,” said Ahern. “It’s very satisfying to be able to tell them about the wonderful activities at the Kimmel Center.”
“It’s a vital resource in the cultural life of the city,” said Rinko. “So it’s gratifying to be part of this wonderful cultural icon.”