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AUBURN — The new Equal Rights Heritage Center is calling for tourism ambassadors to join its team ahead of its slotted late-October opening.

The downtown welcome center's official opening date has not been announced, but officials said they will still be open open before the end of the month. Meanwhile, the center is now accepting applications for the state's first-ever ERHC Volunteer Tourism Ambassador Program.

"One of their primary jobs is really going to be to promote everything historic and cultural here," said Visitor Experience Manager Courtney Rae Kasper on Wednesday. "They're really the front-facing members in there that really help share the excitement and passion for everything that's here." 

"We've definitely already had like a really good generation of interest," Kasper said, adding that Pauline Copes Johnson — Harriet Tubman's great-great grandniece — was the first volunteer to sign up.

Kasper said the ambassador program is looking for people who are passionate about history, interested in the cultural sites, enjoy working with others, have exceptional customer service skills and are reliable. People can apply to be exhibit guides, a front desk assistant, a greeter, a musician, data entry professional or special events helper, to name a few opportunities.

The center is hoping for a core of 20 to 40 volunteers, Kasper said, adding that ideally volunteers would be interested in about a three-hour shift once a week.

Kasper said the center is "definitely looking for people who are passionate about history ... because the long-term goal is really to develop a core base of volunteers that can volunteer at multiple sites around Auburn."

In the future, the center also has plans to implement an internship program.

Business Improvement District Executive Director Stephanie DeVito, who oversees the center's operation, commented that both the ambassador program as well as a future internship program are great opportunities for high school and college students who are interested in government or history and who may need an outlet to fulfill community service hours.

While there is still no opening date set, DeVito said the $10 million project is still "on target" to finished before the end of October, and grand-opening details are in the works. Once it opens, the center will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The Citizen asked for permission to see and photograph the building's interior, but DeVito said that wouldn't be allowed until after it opens.

"Good things are worth waiting for," DeVito said.

"Construction is going fantastic," Kasper said. "It's absolutely gorgeous in there."

Exhibits — detailing an overall view of equal rights throughout the state — are going up, landscaping and sod are being laid, outdoor furniture is out and on Tuesday the sign was put on the front of the building.

Kasper also noted that a floor-to-ceiling map of Auburn is now installed in the entry vestibule of the building. She said it has a key for all the historical and cultural sites in Auburn and every day or week it will change with chalk to highlight events happening at sites that day or week.

"It's the hub, the nucleus for everything going on in Auburn and Cayuga County," Kasper said of the center.

"One very exciting thing," Kasper said, noting it was a need highlighted at Tuesday's Downtown Revitalization Initiative public workshop Tuesday, "is that there will be six public bathrooms in there. And they're absolutely gorgeous."

Kasper described the center as an interactive experience, filled with listening booths, a social justice video table, and various iPad components. From the center of the ERHC, Kasper said there are large picture windows that highlight sites such as the Seward House and Memorial City Hall. The hope is the windows will spark people's interest and get them to experience the sites. 

"We kind of like to say that the center is the welcome mat," Kasper said, "and Auburn (and) the region itself is actually the museum exhibits to go see."

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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