Lending a helping hand

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Maria-Jose Subiria


Stranded in Atlanta after the recent volcano eruption in Iceland canceled flights across Europe, Aphinant Sae-Jueng and Michael Dilz, of Germany, were interested in visiting the CNN Center and eating some authentic Southern food.

"We have to stay more days here," Dilz said as the two were on their way home from a trip to Las Vegas.

"The earliest flight is next week," Sae-Jueng added.

She said she and Dilz visited the Airport Information and Ground Transportation Center at Hartsfield-Jackson, located between Terminal North and Terminal South, near the west end of the airport, to get some advice.

Brenda Sims, volunteer coordinator for the Hartsfield-Jackson Host Volunteers Program, recommended they either use the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system, or take a taxi, to get to the CNN Center. She also suggested they dine at Paschal's Southern Cuisine, located in the Atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson.

Sims was "very friendly, very happy, very helpful," Dilz said.

Sims said she was a host volunteer at the airport for six years before moving up to the position of volunteer coordinator three years ago.

She said that in addition to volunteers who assist passengers at the Airport Information and Ground Transportation Center, host volunteers are also located on concourses A, E and T, and at the Main Security Check-Point area, Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m., to 9 p.m.

The program is planning to expand to all of the airport's concourses in the future, she added.

Sims said the Host Volunteers Program is composed of 72 regular volunteers, from 20 to 80 years old, and eight volunteers who are in high school, from ages 15 to 18.

"The program consists of regular, ordinary, good-hearted everyday people who wish to be of service," Sims said. She said the volunteers are "educators, students, professionals, military personnel and experts in the communication field, and people who have worked in various airport-related fields, including flight attendants, ramp workers and ex-pilots."

Host volunteers help passengers with directions to the City of Atlanta, tell them about transportation options, guide them through the airport and provide escort assistance if needed, Sims said.

Sims said the Host Volunteers Program has a free escort service for passengers who need to be guided through the airport. Individuals must contact the Customer Service Office at (404) 209-2169 three to five days in advance to use the service, she explained.

Sims said volunteers escort passengers beyond the airport's premises only under special circumstances.

"It's a judgment call," said Sims. "If we don't think they can manage on their own ... we can help them."

Carolyn Brannon, 65, a host volunteer at Hartsfield-Jackson, said she joined the program in June 2009.

Brannon said she travels to Hartsfield-Jackson from Columbus, Ga., twice a week to volunteer.

"We have a lot of people that just need help," Brannon said.

Anthony Chapman, a 55-year-old host volunteer at Hartsfield-Jackson, said he is a full-time Realtor and has been volunteering for the program for three and a half years.

"I have a love of volunteerism, as well as for the airport," he said. "I love serving folk."

Chapman said he enjoys the airport environment, because while serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, he traveled frequently and grew accustomed to it.

It is "very rewarding when you can help someone ... [get] through the airport from one place to the other," he said.

Sims said the Host Volunteer Program began during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

"It was decided help was needed assisting passengers through the airport," she said. "It became such a popular program, a decision was made to keep the program going."

According to Sims, individuals interested in volunteering for the program should visit Hartsfield-Jackson's web site at www.atlanta-airport.com, click on the "Passenger Information" tab and then click on "Customer Service." From the Customer Service page, individuals should click on the "Airport Volunteers" tab to get the online application form.

"There is a six-week orientation class before volunteers are placed in a position to assist passengers, thus ensuring all information is correctly given to our passengers," Sims said.