• Laurel Contributor

Highlands Chamber Volunteers Good as Gold

by Donna Rhodes

Nearly everyone new to The Plateau checks in with the Highlands Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, 108 Main Street, for maps, directions, dining and accommodation recommendations, events and entertainment advice, and much more.

Beverly Wichman, Highlands Chamber of Commerce Volunteer & Event Manager, is responsible for inspiring local residents to volunteer at the Center.

“Our volunteers are the best of Highlands,” says Beverly. “Their enthusiasm and dedication to promoting our town makes them ambassadors of the highest order. The Chamber Visitor Center could not service the needs of our visitors and residents without them. When a volunteer recommends something, the guest knows it’s good as gold.”

Highlands volunteers come from diverse career paths including attorney, commercial airline pilot, computer company executive, government official, sales executive, and registered nurse, among a few. And their reasons for volunteering are just as varied. Here are some of their stories.

Joyce Fleming: “Highlands is our get-away home for 17 years. We’ve made it our almost-full-time home for the last eight. I am a Texas transplant, second-gen Mexican-American, and I’m a retired lawyer. I enjoy the wealth of activities The Plateau has to offer. I’m a second-year volunteer. Visitors come from all over the United States and the world.   I never know what someone is going to ask. Researching answers helps me learn more about the area. I regularly pull out Ran Shaffner’s thick book about Highlands and the ‘Highland Hiker’s Guide to Trails’ to give advice.”

Steve Mehder: “When I first started volunteering, I recall Bob Kieltyka, the Chamber Executive Director, saying that ‘Highlands was the center of the universe.’ Almost every day I meet a visitor and find out that we both know the same people, regardless of where they are from. The most unusual episode was a visitor from Hong Kong who knew a neighbor of mine in the US.”

Anne Parsons: “If one loves Highlands, it is easy to come to work at the Visitors Center with a smile. I have volunteered two days a week since 2011. Two of the most memorable questions I can recall are: A family of four from Michigan came in asking where in town they could view bears… I felt like saying oh yes, a mama bear and cubs cross Main Street at 4th every afternoon at 4:00! (I did not); the other, two elderly ladies said they had been told that there were many beautiful homes here and wanted to know the street they could drive down… telling them that was not possible, I gave them a real estate guide.”

Anne and her husband are summer residents in Highlands for six months, the other part of the year they reside in Orlando.

Suzanne Pfeiffer: “I enjoy meeting and talking with people and helping them find fun things to do. The Highlands Visitor Center is a great resource. It’s a joy to see how amazed people are when they hear about all the mountain experiences that await.”

Chip Snyder: Volunteering at the Highlands Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a great opportunity to share with visitors and new residents my love of Highlands. It’s people, wonderful outdoor activities, and area amenities, packaged into this quaint mountain top village.

DeeDee Thompson: “After my husband and I moved to Highlands, I started volunteering for several groups. I had no idea what I was in for when I began at the Chamber. Volunteers are included in Chamber activities as well as Volunteer events. Recently we had an event at the Highland Aerial Park where I got to zipline. I never thought I would do this at my age! My grandchildren were quite impressed. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to learn and share the beauty of Highlands.”

Bob Trevathan: “I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy interaction with visitors.”

Beverly adds, “Bob is the newest volunteer but is full of information about Highlands. Having lived here for over 20 years, he knows everything – every hike, waterfall – and even every watering hole. Come by any Monday morning and he’ll enthusiastically share every detail.”

Sandie Trevathan: “The Chamber hosts monthly Business After Hour events where I help set up and greet guests. At a recent event there was a cake but no serving utensil. I remembered a merchant – The Spice & Tea Exchange – where I had taken a cooking class. Their store was just down the street and I borrowed their utensil. They saved the day. Our merchants really help each other out!”

Stacey Wright: “My family started coming to Highlands in 1932. While on a multi-week car trip, the Fate brought them here. My mother was nine. Once here, my grandmother told my grandfather she loved it and wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon.”

Stacey and her family continue to stay and visit the original family property.

“Last summer was my first summer as a volunteer,” she says. “I wanted to find something that would give back in some small way. The highlight for me is sharing my love and enthusiasm for this place with visitors that stop by.  It’s such a pleasurable, easy job!  And let’s face it, visitors are going to be so happy they’re here, so it’s a pretty easy gig!”

When you bump into any of these wonderful volunteers, thank them for all they do to make Highlands one of the South’s favorite towns to visit. Or better yet – come by the Visitor Center and say “Hello” Monday through Saturday and especially on Friday to meet Elaine Carlton, a volunteer for 16 years. If you’d like to volunteer, contact Beverly Wichman at (828) 526-2112 or at visitor@highlandschamber.org.

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