Marble Falls couple exemplifies volunteer spirit in the Highland Lakes
Cecilia and Robert de la Garza of Marble Falls have volunteered in the city’s Visitor Center for more than 10 years.
“We want to promote our town,” Cecilia said. “When people come to visit, they may just be stopping here for a few hours. They don’t want to waste their time, so we want to help them get the most out of their stay, no matter how short it may be.”
The de la Garzas spend most Wednesday mornings at the center, two of thousands of people in the Highland Lakes to be recognized during National Volunteer Appreciation Month. April was officially dedicated to volunteers in 1991 as part of President George H.W. Bush’s 1000 Points of Light campaign. However, a weeklong recognition has been observed in April by organizations and communities since the 1970s.
For Kayla Gostnell, director of Tourism and Sales for the city of Marble Falls, April is the perfect time to make the 11 volunteers working at the Visitor Center feel extra appreciated.
“They are basically who run this place,” she said. “They’re the face of it all. I couldn’t run this place without them.”
The Visitor Center serves as an information hub in the Highland Lakes, Gostnell said. Located at 100 Avenue G, just past the U.S. 281 bridge, the center’s prominent location and unique triangular shape is one of the first things newcomers spot when traveling through the city.
With the help of volunteers like the de la Garzas, visitors learn where to go for the best experiences, Gostnell said.
The couple became involved with the center shortly after moving to Marble Falls from Houston about 14 years ago. At the time, it was still located at the Old Train Depot just off of U.S. 281. It was relocated to the new building when construction was completed in 2013.
Initially, they wanted to familiarize themselves with their new community after both retiring from over 30 years of service at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Robert was an engineer with Mission Control; Cecilia worked as an administrative officer.
They soon became attached to the job and the people at the Visitor Center.
“We’ve had seven different managers since we’ve started helping out,” Cecilia said. “Each one of them has brought different visions to the center, and each contribution has made this into what it is today. And the other volunteers are so wonderful. It’s like a family here.”
Currently, the couple covers the 9 a.m.-1 p.m. shift every Wednesday at the center. While they often take care of busywork, such as answering phones, tidying the lobby and stopping in at local businesses to pick up promotional materials and coupons to display, their main objective is to form relationships with whomever walks through the center’s glass doors.
“We usually ask visitors if we can help them find something specific, but, sometimes, they want to just browse on their own,” Robert said. “We try to really listen to what it is they want to see and cater our advice to them.”
“(Visitors) need to know that, if we don’t have the information, we’re going to get it,” Cecilia added. “We’ve called people after they’ve left the center just to direct them to something we think they’d enjoy. People are always surprised that we do that, but we just see it as part of our job.”
In addition to their weekly shift, the couple participates in monthly events and workshops that Gostnell schedules for the volunteers. From cooking classes at Art of the Meal to an after-hours happy hour at a local brewery or winery, each activity is an opportunity for volunteers to have firsthand experiences with the businesses and organizations they help promote while boosting morale internally.
Gostnell plans to celebrate her volunteers with a couple of “special surprises” planned in April. While she wouldn’t divulge additional information, she said she encourages residents to thank a volunteer this month.
“Tourism is huge in Marble Falls, and our volunteers are the face of the industry here,” she said. “They do a lot for this community.”
Those interested in volunteering at the Marble Falls Visitor Center can fill out an application in person or call 830-693-4449.
Where to volunteer
The Highland Lakes has plenty of opportunities for volunteers.
Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes
Assist area youths by tutoring students, leading planned activities, chaperoning trips, and acting as mentors. The organization has locations in Burnet, Marble Falls, and Kingsland. For more information, visit bgc-hl.com.
Burnet County Hunger Alliance
Work with local food pantries and soup kitchens to assist in gathering and distributing food supplies to those in need. More information about the alliance, as well as a comprehensive list of local food pantries and donation stations, is available at burnetcountyhungeralliance.org.
CASA for the Highland Lakes Area
Commit to at least one year of advocacy work for children in the foster care system in five counties, including Burnet and Llano. Training sessions are available throughout the year. The organization is based out of Kingsland. Applications are available at highlandlakescasa.com, or call 325-388-3440 for more information.
Highland Lakes Crisis Network
Assist those in need by providing support spanning from free clothing and food deliveries to assistance during natural disasters. Those interested in volunteering can sign up at highlandlakescrisisnetwork.com/volunteer.
Hill Country Humane Society
Volunteer to walk, feed, and clean animals as they wait to find a forever home. The society is a nonprofit organization based out of Buchanan Dam. Call 512-793-5463 or visit hillcountryhumanesociety.org.
A more comprehensive list of places to volunteer within the Highland Lakes is available at 101highlandlakes.com/VOLUNTEER.