Posted by Tany Holzworth, Learning and Innovation
Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives. The ways people take action for conservation range from dropping their “Quarters for Conservation” into our voting kiosks—to helping establish Papua New Guinea’s first conservation area with our Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program. One of the many ways the zoo invites our community to take conservation action is through our robust volunteer program.
|Volunteers are at the heart of our mission.|
Zoo volunteers donate over 90,000 hours annually and share a diverse and talented skill set. Our volunteers embody “making conservation a priority.” Each year during National Volunteer Week (April 7 – 13) we celebrate the vibrant community of volunteers that supports Woodland Park Zoo!
Every year, Woodland Park Zoo volunteers invite new ambassadors into the zoo community and coach them into the invaluable resource you encounter on grounds every day! The Woodland Park Zoo volunteer team has opened the door wider—making room for volunteers with all abilities to take action for conservation. The Volunteer Inclusion Program, funded by a two-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, seeks to support people with disabilities in taking action through volunteering at the zoo. This can mean providing extended training, making physical modifications to tasks, setting up supports within the volunteer community, or making space for non-traditional volunteer roles.
“The Volunteer Inclusion Program is another critical step forward to making Woodland Park Zoo a place of inclusion in which people of all backgrounds and abilities feel welcome and inspired to make conservation a priority in their lives. We hope this new component of our diversity and inclusion initiative can become a model for other cultural organizations who also aspire to reduce barriers for participation of all audiences and to expand their volunteer programs,” says Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal, PhD.
This year for National Volunteer Week—we want to bring special attention to some of the volunteers who show that it’s possible for everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives:
|Morgan and Sue at a Discovery cart.|
Sue Silbernagel, a long-time docent and zoo volunteer, has spearheaded these efforts by partnering with Morgan, one of our newest zoo volunteers. Morgan chose to volunteer at the zoo for the same reason most people do—the animals! “Being at the zoo motivates her,” Sue says, “It’s a place of learning, outdoors, and animals.” Volunteering at the zoo gives Morgan the opportunity to make meaningful connections in the community, and to practice her communication and job skills. Unfortunately, spaces where people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to build authentic, inter-abled friendships are limited, so having an inclusive community of people with shared interests who welcome and support Morgan is invaluable. “Once Morgan puts her vest on, she’s a volunteer. The most important thing to me is that Morgan feels she belongs here,” Sue says, “because she does! Guests come away from interactions with her with smiles on their faces.”
|Sam practices holding Lola the Aplomado falcon at the raptor barn with keeper Gretchen.|
Sam and his dad Joe have been volunteering at the zoo for about a year now, and have recently taken on the additional responsibility of mentoring new volunteers. Sam—who has autism—initiated the effort to volunteer, with Joe expecting to come along as support, but without any particular interest in the zoo. Now they both love the zoo, the things they learn and the people they encounter. “There’s always interesting people to meet,” says Sam, “and I like to see what can happen.” Joe and Sam have a great relationship, and watching them banter over how they got involved at the zoo you can see how they would be great role models for other volunteers. “Now Sam gets on my case if I buy disposable water bottles.”
“Not all the time. But you deserve it!” jokes Sam.
Joe points out that when people come to the zoo, they’re usually in a good mood. “It makes for a safe space with really positive interactions,” he says. “When we first started, and people said how much they love it, I thought maybe that was cliché, but now I understand. We really love it here.”
Volunteers at Woodland Park Zoo are a wealth of resources and contribute greatly to the zoo. The volunteer team, all 800 +, are putting a concentrated effort into developing an inclusive environment. As volunteers, each person is valued for their individual contributions, talents and strengths. We are proud to watch the community grow stronger with the integration of people with diverse abilities.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the zoo, visit zoo.org/volunteer or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'd love to hear from you!