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Sparkling lights, cozy nights and many warm smiles

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, communications
Photos by Pisto, Woodland Park Zoo

Sparkling colors and magical scenes draw many families to explore Woodland Park Zoo's WildLights. This year, in addition to welcoming members and visitors—the zoo's Community Access Program invited some very special community members to share in the magic of the season.

Our friends from White Center CDA, thank you for joining us!

The weekend after Thanksgiving, the zoo invited more than 50 community partners to attend WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union. These local organizations serve low-income, at-risk or underserved children and families in our shared community and include organizations such as Mary's Place, Ryther, Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound, Sibling House, White Center CDA, Youthcare, Treehouse and more. By partnering with these organizations over the Thanksgiving weekend, the zoo welcomed more than 3,000 attendees to our Community Access Program WildLights nights.

We believe that all kids should be able to come to the zoo and work with over 600 community partners and local organizations to make free visits to the zoo possible for more than 50,000 people every year. During the winter season, it's more important than ever to reach out to those in need and offer a warm and welcome space. As well as providing complimentary WildLights tickets, the zoo invited guests to enjoy warm refreshments in a private space, offered special animal encounters with Benin the hedgehog and Buddy the pharaoh eagle-owl, shared conservation games led by our ZooCorps teens and provided items donated to our cozy clothing drive. In addition, we were absolutely thrilled to be able to offer many of our guests complimentary shuttle service to and from the event, thanks to a generous partnership with our amazing friends at Starline Luxury Coaches.

While it fills our hearts with joy to open our doors to the community, we could not do so without support from members, volunteers and donors. The Community Access Program's mission is to reach out to those in our community who would not otherwise be able to experience a zoo visit. Our partnerships with 600+ human service organizations across Puget Sound make this mission successful. We want to thank our partners for their participation in this program and we'd like to thank you for making programs like this possible. With each zoo visit and membership, you support a zoo that supports its community.

As a reflection of the wide support that makes our world-class zoo so strong, the Community Access Program (CAP) is dedicated to making the zoo more accessible to low-income, at-risk, or underserved children and families in our shared community. We believe time spent with wildlife is educational, motivational and restorative. It is our goal to make such experiences possible to as many people as possible regardless of their economic circumstances.

Here are a few of our favorite photos from our WildLights Community Access Program nights. From ours to yours, we hope this season is full of community, family, a spirit of giving and a whole lotta' hot chocolate.

Best part of the night? Cookies of course! Thank you Lancer catering!

Rain Forest Pavilion made a very festive spot to warm up between WildLights!

We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Lancer Catering for their beautiful spread of holiday cookies, hot cocoa and coffee.

We would like to give a huge shout out to the many generous donations from staff and zoo volunteers who emptied their closets and bought brand new items for our cozy clothing drive. There were so many beautiful hats, scarves mittens and coats—we could not count them all. Guests were able to collect the clothing items they needed and then head out to enjoy the lights. 
Piles of cozy clothing items.

Thanks to our lovely volunteers and ZooCorps teens for an awesome event!
A zoo volunteer helps light the safety sparkle lights provided by Seattle Department of Transportation while some curious kiddos stand by.

Special thanks also go to Seattle Department of Transportation for bringing a sparkle to each night with a wonderful gift of safety lights! Guests were able to take the clip-on lights home with them and hopefully make walking or riding a safer experience for all during the dark winter months.
When asked, the best part of the night was spending time with family and taking in the lights.

Special thank you also goes to Starline Luxury Coaches for safe and warm transportation to the zoo! Among the major barriers to access is an inability to travel to the zoo, especially during the cold and dark winter months. We were able to provide access to new members of the community by providing safe, warm transportation to our Special WildLights event. In order to make this weekend accessible to as many children and families as possible, Starline Luxury Coaches offered two full-size busses each night for organizations such as Mary's Place, Solid Ground and ADWAS.

A couple of brightly lit lemurs welcome guests.
A few very nice words from our guests:

The burden parents feel when they are experiencing housing insecurity, food insecurity and financial stress is immense.  Their number one concern is, “how is this affecting my child(ren)?”  “Is this going to screw them up for life?” When they have the opportunity to visit an event like WildLights—where a kid can delight in the wonder of Woodland Park Zoo—parents are flooded with relief and reprieve from the ‘heaviness.’  Being able to enjoy a night out—like a “normal” family is profound in a way most people can’t understand, and we are so glad that Woodland Park Zoo gets that.  Thank you. 
- FamilyWorks Food Bank and Resource Center

THANK YOU for the tickets to Wildlights! I brought a friend and her son and they all had a blast. The kiddo has some heavy stuff in his life and his mom said it was a great distraction from that. He was like a kid in a candy shop delighted by the lights, sloths, Komodo dragons, and all the extra bling and souvenirs they were giving away. Thanks for making his and our night special...doing something we would never have thought to do otherwise! - FamilyWorks guest

All of our families that were able to go because of the tickets you donated were so thankful for the experience! After they went they were all texting and emailing how thankful they were that they got to take their kids to see the lights and were very thankful for the experience! Thank you so much for partnering with us at Hand in Hand to make the simple joys of life, such as seeing Christmas lights, a possibility for the families we serve! - Village Impact Project, Hand in Hand

Thank you so much for the opportunity for our families to experience WildLights. The families appreciated the shuttle to and from the event very much. Our bus driver was phenomenal, and the families enjoyed his enthusiasm. Despite being rained on, there were all happy faces on our way back. They especially appreciated the hot cocoa to warm up after the rain. - Mary's Place

It was so great, we had a blast!  We loved walking around and finding all the animals, especially the ones that moved like the monkeys, eagle, and elephants.  A major highlight was the snowball fight and one of my kids stated, “this is the best snowball fight ever.” - Ryther guest

It was a very sweet moment to see the students sit in Santa’s lap and say what they wanted for Christmas.  OneLife Tutoring provides free homework help and tutoring to children from immigrant families that are low-income.  We also run a drive for getting a $25 Toys R Us Gift card into the hands of the parents so they can fulfill what Santa heard that night, so every child in a student’s family gets a Christmas gift.  It is going to be a Merry Christmas!  Thank you for the hot chocolate and the coffee and tea.  We all appreciated warming up in the Food Pavilion.  We saw a beautiful owl there too. Happy Holidays to you and the WildLights Staff! - OneLife Tutoring

Thank you so much for the WildLights tickets! We all had such a blast (especially the kids!). They loved seeing all the lights and wandering around. They took their hot chocolate with them to keep their hands toasty, and all made sure to keep their flashing buttons on so we could keep track of them! We all had such an amazing time and are so glad we could do this and make memories with them that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Thank you!!! -Sibling House guest

To share in the joy and magic of the season with your family visit WildLights presented by Sound Credit Union. For details visit