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TPA Volunteer Ambassadors celebrate fourth year of helping Tampa Bay area visitors

(July 21, 2016) Volunteers come from all walks of life. They are former pilots, travel industry professionals and students. Husbands and wives volunteer together, and even a father and daughter. 

“When I started volunteering I talked about it so enthusiastically, she said ‘I want to do that, too’,” said George Stokes, whose daughter Dee Dee Lu has been by his side at the airport information booth for one-and-a-half years. (Dee Dee is heading west to Stanford this fall to work on a master’s degree in engineering.)

Sandra and Richard Mullis, former cruise line employees with a long history of assisting tourists, have been volunteers since the program started three years ago.

“You meet people from everywhere,” Sandra Mullis said, before ticking off the names of places: New Zealand, Russia, Puerto Rico.

Gail and Jim Agnew, another husband-and-wife team that have been volunteers from day one, are former pilots. Gail started flying Jim convinced her to climb into a plane he was piloting.

“I said if I’m going to fly with you, I want to learn how to land this baby,” Gail said.

At an annual banquet on July 19 to honor volunteers, Jim was decked out in a shirt honoring Wilbur Wright and Power of Flight. He said he gets his biggest kick out of giving aviation-themed coloring books to children traveling through the airport.

“It’s amazing to see how it keeps the young kids calm and the families are happy to see it,” he said.

The Volunteer Ambassador program began four years ago, just in time for the Republican National Convention visitors to arrive. The program started its first year with around 90 volunteers and is now up to 158 volunteers.

The volunteers have put in combined service of nearly 94,000 hours and have helped almost 800,000 guests since 2012. At the July 19 banquet, nine volunteers were recognized for 1,000 hours of service, adding to the six who reached the milestone last year. 

Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater and Visit Tampa Bay lead volunteers on six familiarization trips each year so they can guide tourists to Bay area hot spots. This year’s tours included the Hard Rock Café and The Florida Aquarium in Tampa and the Hofbrauhaus and a screening of “The Birds” in Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg.

“They’ve got real heart for the travel and tourism industry and they want to share what they learn,” said Rhonda Sanborn, who organizes the VSPC tours for the volunteers.

In his remarks at the annual appreciation banquet, Airport CEO Joe Lopano called attention to that spirit.

“You believe in helping others,” Lopano said. “That’s a value that’s important to our entire society.”

John Tiliacos, Vice President of Operations and Customer Service, thanked the volunteers for helping make Tampa International Airport great.

“It’s the people who work at TPA that make a difference to our guests,” he said. “You’re the face of the Airport, and you hit it out of the park every day.”