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by Joan Rattner Heilman, AARP Bulletin, April 2008
If you’re planning to visit New York, Chicago, Houston or Fairbanks, make a date with a greeter—a resident who will take you on a private, unscripted stroll through a neighborhood you’ve always wanted to see or a corner of town off the beaten path.
Greeters are volunteers who love their city and what to share it with you. No fees, no tipping. The program is open to groups (no more than six), children, disabled travelers and non-English speakers. New York’s more than 300 Big Apple Greeter volunteers, for example, speak about 25 languages among them.
Big Apple Greeter originated in New York in 1992 and has served as the model for other cities around the world, including Toronto, Melbourne and Buenos Aires. Paris started up in 2007.
To schedule an informal tour with a greeter, you must make a reservation—usually a few weeks in advance. You’ll be assigned a local escort with expertise in what you want to see. Chicago, for example, offers the choice of 40 special-interest areas (skyscraper architecture, Irish American heritage, synagogues) and more than 25 neighborhoods (Little Italy, Polish Chicago, North Michigan Avenue, the Loop). In New York, enthusiastic eaters frequently choose the multi-ethnic section of Flushing in Queens. If your tour takes you beyond walking distance, you’ll travel on public transportation using free passes issued by the local transit authority.
If you’re interested in becoming a greeter, contact your local program. Contacts for most—including international—can be found on New York’s website, www.bigapplegreeter.org, by clicking on Resources and scrolling down to the Global Greeter Network.
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