Where are the jobs? Try ‘next best thing’
If you happen to visit Harpers Ferry, and you happen to take a bench seat for a rest, you might be sitting on a piece of furniture hand-built by Shepherdstown’s own Leslie Carter.
She was named Volunteer of the Month by the National Park Service (NPS) recently for her work at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where she has volunteered 24 hours per week in the Facility Management Division’s Buildlings & Utilities Department since May.
“I’m tickled,” Carter said. “I’m very happy. It just sort of justifies what I’ve been doing and it convinces me that I’m on the right track in terms of a career.”
She graduated from high school in 1980 and continued her education at Shepherd College. In May 2009, she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Regents Bachelor of Arts Degree with a concentration in Historic Preservation.
Carter’s work for the NPS spans nearly 30 years. She has offered her services at Glen Echo Park Conservation Center, Antietam National Battlefield and the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
She serves in Harpers Ferry as an assistant carpenter, working to uphold the standards of park carpenters John Hammond and Marty Barger, whom she calls exceptional craftsmen. In addition to building several visitor benches, Carter constructed a half wall in the basement of a park housing unit and restored the boat shed in the lower town section.
In her spare time, Carter enjoys spending time with family, mountain biking, gardening, horseback riding, reading and “antiquing.” She is also writing a novel about her own family history.
Carter is intrigued by American history and is specifically interested in the way of life of the common working class, their simplicity and resourcefulness.
She became a cabinet maker after she worked at Glen Echo – an amusement park converted by the NPS into what Carter calls a cultural arts park, a “loose community of artists in residence.”
Studying under master Henry Barrow, Carter made a decision to work with wood for a living. And she has done professional cabinet making for 15 years.
“I was so blown away by it, I thought ‘I don’t want to do anything else with my life,'” she said. Working as a volunteer, Carter has also been able to tie in her love of history. While at Glen Echo, she photographed and documented amusement park murals; in 2007, she wrote a paper about canal boat life along the C&O Canal.
Carter also has researched the role of women in the field of woodworking, traditionally a male occupation. She traced some of the first professional women woodworkers back to 1548 in Europe.
She would like to eventually become a paid employee of the NPS, but admits the recession has made her change her expectations about full-time employment soon after graduation.
“You feel as though somebody is telling you, ‘On your mark, get set, stop,'” Carter said of the recession-related challenging facing those trying to enter the job market.
“The next best thing is volunteering,” she said. “It gives you a sense of self-worth.”
The NPS is certainly happy with her accomplishments in Harpers Ferry.
“Leslie is extremely enthusiastic about preserving resources within the park …” said Chief of Maintentance Michael Castagnetto. “There’s no question that staff and visitors are better served because of Leslie’s commitment to the park.”
– If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at Harpers Ferry, call (304) 535-5017.