I moved to Bellingham in 1976 to attend Western Washington University, and like many who come here, I never left after graduating. I retired after 33 years with UPS, and quickly realized I am not cut out to do nothing. I am a lifelong learner and have never been more aware of this than in my first few months of retirement. I decided I wanted to do something, but I have a personal rule that has guided my life well: If I am going to do anything, it has to be fun.
Exploring my options led me to the hospitality and tourism management program at Whatcom Community College, and it seemed like a great choice. I thought if I could help other people have fun, there would be fun in that for me, too.
In 2011, I went back to school for a second degree in business with an emphasis on hospitality and tourism management to begin pursing my second career. This has been the perfect choice for me. I became involved in student clubs, hosted international students and became a leader to community members.
When it came time to find a position to fulfill my internship I was looking for something that would adhere to my golden rule of fun, but also further my career. I heard of the Bellingham Ambassador Program with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism through one of my classes and was excited by the idea of helping travelers navigate through Whatcom County. It was a great opportunity to expand my professional network and be more involved in the community.
As a Bellingham Ambassador I greeted travelers from around the world as they arrived to visit our community. I offered my assistance through travel facilities, made recommendations and offered knowledge about the area. I improved the experiences of the travelers I met, and left them with positive impressions of our community.
As the program's first intern, I provided a great deal of leadership to volunteers and was surprised at how much I was able to influence the program this way. Teaching others to do what I do as a lifestyle helped them build confidence and develop themselves. Watching volunteers gain confidence, knowledge and self-assurance was a great experience. The level of teamwork and leadership in this program helped my growth personally and professionally.
The longer I worked as a Bellingham Ambassador the more I realized there is a need for people like me. Ambassadors make travel and tourism a positive experience for visitors and locals by improving the travel industry in our region. Tourism is thriving in our community, and it is an integral part of our local economy. It was amazing to see the impact I could have on this industry.
This position became a good networking opportunity for me, as it introduced me to people within the industry and beyond. Stepping into the role of helping people and sharing my knowledge was a natural extension of who I am and the things I like to do. And it opened professional opportunities and avenues to me. You never know when a connection may pay off, or where an introduction can lead. Improving social interactions, networking skills and simply meeting people was a great asset to me professionally.
When I finished my internship I was quickly offered a job with SpringHill Suites by Marriott. I am now the night auditor overseeing night staff and operations at the new Northwest Avenue location. Hiring managers were impressed with my education and the range of skills demonstrated in my internship. I entered the hospitality industry highly qualified for an important role in a strong company that offers great opportunity to learn and grow.
Being a Bellingham Ambassador was more than just volunteering for me; it was a launching pad for the next phase in my life. I'm not sure what the future of a second career looks like for me, but I'm relaxed about what I'm doing and having fun. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but I'm pretty sure I'm headed in the right direction.
Larry Manley lives in Bellingham. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a Bellingham Ambassador, email email@example.com or call Loni Rahm at 360-671-3990 for details.
On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.