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  • Animals, TRENDING

    Passion in Action: My Birmingham Zoo Volunteer Experience by Marie Harris

    Recently I had the privilege of attending the Young Women’s Empowerment Conference, a day long event whose name speaks for itself. The day was full of influential women and unifying activities, and around noon, attendees broke out for a “booth” session, where organizations throughout the community discussed their work and how we as young women could contribute to their causes. One booth present this year was the Birmingham Zoo, and I excitedly joined Kirsten Smith, the zoo’s Volunteer Coordinator and one of my personal inspirations, to distribute information (and origami elephants) on the myriad avenues of service the zoo offers. Kirsten wanted me to give a “volunteer’s perspective” on why someone should consider volunteering at the zoo, but as I stood there, I realized just how hard it was to fully recount how invaluable volunteering with the zoo has been for me.

    In my personal experience, I have been trained for pachyderm area, Giraffe Feeding Station, ReptileCrew, and interacting with visitors on the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) spectrum. I’ve listened to lectures from UAB professors, joined meetings with the Alabama Paleontological Society, and supervised volunteers for zoo special events. I’ve made lifelong friends from schools I didn’t even know existed, gained countless mentors, and spilled entire trays of baked beans during Teacher Night. A science project I conducted in the zoo’s butterfly garden placed first at the Alabama Junior Academy of Science and later received honorable mention at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. I was even honored with the Community Service Award at YWEC 2016 through recommendation from the zoo’s Volunteer Manager Alonia Diaz.
    And, I must admit, all of that sounds super cool! I would be lying, however, if I said that these were the greatest things I’ve gained from volunteering at the zoo. Truthfully, the greatest impact the zoo has made on me is that it has granted me an unparalleled sense of self confidence. It is for that reason that I strongly encourage young people like you (yes, you!) to apply to volunteer at the Birmingham Zoo.

    When I first applied to volunteer, I was an awkward and generally unsociable sophomore in high school. In retrospect, I had no idea what I anticipated for that summer, other than it was something new to try. My first assignment was CampCrew, where I assisted with the children in the zoo’s summer camps. From that, my next assignment was biofacts, which are mini-presentations where you utilize given artifacts (essentially conversation starters) relating to a selected animal to “interpret” to visitors passing through the exhibit. This latter task proved very challenging, as engaging with others was not my forte. In all situations, however, I intentionally forced myself to persevere, and soon engaging and speaking with others felt very natural for me. To this day, you can’t get me to shut up!

    At the end of the summer, Alonia planned a Volunteer Appreciation Party for all of the teen volunteers. It was at this party, which I of course arrived late to, that I was presented with a certificate signifying my promotion to Zoofari Teen. Zoofari Teen is the highest promotion a teen volunteer can receive and typically takes three years to achieve. I was thus beyond shocked and even more so honored that I was able to reach this level with only a summer’s worth of experience. Knowing that the staff at the zoo had so much faith in my competency as to allow me to receive this promotion granted me so much confidence, and since then, I have channelled this confidence in everything I do, enabling me to embark on ventures I would have never imagined myself attempting. I am therefore forever grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the Birmingham Zoo, and I wholeheartedly advocate for others to apply as a volunteer so they too can experience the empowerment which I have hereby encountered.
    Though there are many reasons you should consider volunteering here, from service hours to free zoo admission, the Birmingham Zoo is incredible because of the people that comprise it. By volunteering at the zoo, you will get the opportunity to join a family of people who maintain a common passion and appreciation for the natural world and who share a mutual commitment to inspiring and investing this love in others. So break out of your shell, and apply to be a volunteer at the Birmingham Zoo today!

    Applications for the Birmingham Zoo’s Teen Volunteer program are due April 8, 2017 and can be accessed at For more information regarding the volunteer programs at the Birmingham Zoo, contact Alonia Diaz at

  • Animals, Articles, TRENDING

    14-Year-Old Girl Invents AWESOME Device to Help Her Dog Deal with Loneliness

    Brooke Martin is only 14 years old, but she managed to invent something that might just change the way you and your dog interact when you leave the house. Her creation, iCPooch, was inspired by her shelter dog, Kayla, who suffered from canine separation anxiety when Brooke wasn’t around.

    To help her best friend, Brooke created an internet-enabled device that let her video chat with her dog and even give her a treat … no matter where she was! iCPooch is an absolutely brilliant idea for owners who spend time away from home, whether they’re at work, school, out with friends, or just on the road a lot. With iCPooch, you just need use your iphone or tablet to call your dog through the device and interact with it.

    Watch the video and learn more about this wonderful new way to stay in touch with your pooch when you’re not home!

  • Animals, Articles, Sheroes

    SHero: Rachel Mohd

    Rachel Mohd is an animal rights activist that definitely falls into the category of Shero. She is an 18-year-old local to Birmingham who started Animal Allies, a club that works on animal activism. I had the pleasure of interviewing her. Read on to see what she had to say!

    Question: How did you get interested in animal rights?
    Answer: I have always been passionate about animal rights. I think once I started volunteering at my local human society, my love for animals finally had an outlet. Seeing animals gain the confidence they needed in order to be adopted after training them for a few weeks really opened my eyes and made me want others to see what they were capable of.

    Q: When did you decide you wanted to start Animal Allies?
    A: I have always wanted to start Animal Allies, I just didn’t know how. One of my teachers told me that I should’ve started a club at my high school promoting animal allies, but it was too late because applications were due long ago. I thought that was a great idea and still wanted to do it, so I contacted the teen advisory board at the Homewood Public Library and told them my idea and then Animal Allies was born.

    Q:What all does Animal Allies do?
    A: Animal Allies do different things each meeting. We have had guest speakers come in and educate the community on what it takes to own a pet and the importance spaying and neutering. We have also had staff from my local humane society, The Greater Birmingham Humane Society, come in and teach us about how to become volunteers. We were asked to make posters for The Cats and Dogs Foundation to be displayed at Birmingham’s Do Dah Day. We have had vegetarian pot lucks, watched educational films on animal rights, made posters that promoted animal rights to hang around town, made totes with animal rights slogans, and we have even had therapy animals come in.

    Q: Are there plans to expand Animal Allies?
    A: There are plans to expand Animal Allies. We have started to make flyers to put up around town so more people can hear about our club and what we do. We want to continue putting our name out and gaining new members.

    Q: Do you think animal rights are an issue everyone should get involved with? If so, why?
    A: I believe that animal rights are an issue and everyone should be work towards being a voice for the animals. I have always believed that we should support animal rights because animals can’t do it themselves. If we don’t stick up for the animals, no one else will. It is important to understand that you don’t have to do anything big in order to support animal rights. Meatless Mondays, volunteering at your local humane society, adopting instead of shopping for a pet, and even just educating those close to you are all ways anyone can help support animals.

    Q: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start their own sort of organization?
    A: Have passion for what you are do and there is no way you won’t succeed! Many people believe that you have to have certain traits in order to create something, but it’s important to realize that if you have already thought about creating your own organization, you have what it takes!

    Q: What’s your favorite animal?
    A: My favorite animal would have to be a dog!

    Thank you so much to Rachel Mohd for doing this interview!

    (Written by Megan Flint.)

  • Animals, Confidence

    To the Girls Who Could Change the World

    When you sit and contemplate about this, it’s all of us. Changing the world isn’t about changing everyone or everyone knowing you and if they don’t they live under rocks. Changing the world could be us changing our city, changing our school, our families, the one person no one likes, or even just yourself. Not everyone has someone that will smile at them everyday and not need a reason to do it. People look for something someone can like about them, but to change the world we’ll need a new perspective won’t we? We’ll need to say, “I’m looking for something i don’t like about them.” Which I’ll add is hard to do when you don’t even know the person. When all you do is pass them in the hall and hear your friends all talking about them, laughing at them, for what?

    Maybe for their shoes, they’re not in style. They wear a black beanie, the same one everyday, laughing because the think they don’t wash it. We laugh and let out friends laugh at such stupid things. But what we don’t know or even notice how they might be poor in money they have a rich spirit, a rich personality that no one can simply buy. These are the things people cant change themselves into. People change and tweak themselves like we are a phone homepage, how everything could be placed differently. Or regrouped and renamed we change ourselves to fit a portrait that’s not even real, we’re trying to fit a mold that no one fits in, its a mold that’s not even real. That’s why you changing yourself to be YOU is the best change you can make!

  • Animals, Writing

    Camp NaNoWriMo

    (Image credit to wintersmagicstock on DeviantArt.)

    Summer is here, and with the freedom it brings sometimes comes boredom or a feeling of being lost, because you have no idea what to do. School isn’t in session and maybe you have a job or maybe you don’t, but there’s not a daily commitment for a lot of teenagers in the summer.

    If this is you, I have a suggestion. Camp NaNoWriMo is a website based writing challenge. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the usual challenge runs in November. The basic challenge there is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That’s right, you can’t write any of it in October, and you have to try to finish by 11:59 pm November 30th. The prize is just a certificate saying that you won, and some discounts on related software, but it’s an incredibly difficult challenge, so many people are happy with the feeling of accomplishment that winning NaNoWriMo brings.

    Camp NaNoWriMo is similar to the November challenge, but not the same. It runs in April and July every year. For Camp, you get to pick your own word count goal. You also can do any genre, including nonfiction or scripts. Technically, that’s out of bounds for NaNoWriMo territory, though they let people do it anyway as “NaNo rebels.”

    In addition to those things, you can be in a “cabin.” These cabins are also based online. You can choose people to be put into a cabin with, or you can pick requirements for your desired cabin mates, like wanting them to be people who are writing a similar genre to you or close to you in age. You can also choose to have random cabin mates picked for you, or opt out of the cabin entirely. Cabins are there so you can make friends, and so that you and your buddies can encourage each other when the going gets tough, because it does during these challenges.

    Writing a novel in a month might sound easy to those who have not attempted it, but rest assured, it is difficult. Sometimes writers don’t feel like writing, or they don’t have inspiration at the moment. That’s usually fine, but taking a day or two off during a monthly challenge can put you behind. That’s what’s great about Camp, though. For a while, you can adjust your word count goal. Also, if you set your goal to be less than 50,000 words, it’s almost like a trial run of the full-fledged NaNoWriMo challenge.

    I encourage everyone to try out Camp, because it truly is fun. They welcome everyone over at Camp NaNoWriMo. Give it a shot and see what you can come up with in July. Shoot for the moon or maybe a more modest goal, but whatever you come up with, be proud of it. After all, it is your own creation, and that should be treasured.

    What are you waiting for? Head over to and sign up now. Happy writing!

    Written by Megan Flint.