When Eleanor Wong began volunteering at the front desk of Washington Crossing Historic Park’s visitor center six years ago, she did so from inside a trailer. That’s because the facility was undergoing an extensive renovation, and its operations were moved to a trailer next to it on River Road.
The unusual conditions proved to be fortuitous for Eleanor, who had recently moved with her husband to Bucks County from Syracuse, NY, and knew little about Washington Crossing Historic Park.
“It was steep learning curve,” she says. “But being in the trailer every Thursday, it became kind of like a one-room schoolhouse for me.” As tour groups congregated right in front of Eleanor, she listened in on the narrative and gradually began to understand the significance of where she was volunteering.
She’s learned a lot about the park and its place in American history, but she jokes that she won’t be stepping in as a substitute tour guide any time soon. “I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I came to the United States for college, so whatever knowledge I have about American history is basic next to the park’s interpreters,” Eleanor says.
Giving tours is one of the few volunteer responsibilities at the park she doesn’t handle. From the visitor center front desk, Eleanor carries out a number of daily tasks and is the first representative of the park that many folks meet during a visit.
In recognition of that and her tireless work ethic, Eleanor was named the park’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year. “Eleanor really cares about this community, and she’s come to appreciate all the ways the park benefits it,” says Jennifer Martin, executive director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “She’s extremely positive and personable, and, being bilingual, she enables us to engage with our many international visitors.”
Eleanor says that Chinese tourists are usually surprised to find her behind the desk. A friendly exchange in Cantonese or Mandarin follows. The majority of the international visitors, she says, arrive at the park in search of an authentic American history monument, not a tourist destination.
She’s proud to tell them: you’ve found it.