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 www.birminghamzoo.com. For more information regarding the volunteer programs at the Birmingham Zoo, contact Alonia Diaz at [email protected].