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Zoo News: Zoo works to improve volunteer opportunities

For several months, the zoo has been looking at the way we work with the volunteers who give their time and efforts to make the zoo a special place. Whether they are from local businesses, schools, organizations, or individuals wanting to make a difference, volunteers were always welcome and appreciated. They did their part, but were we always doing ours?

After looking at our existing program there were some good points, but also areas we could improve. As the program was updated, we looked at ways that we could formalize to better engage our volunteers and provide tasks that not only benefit the zoo, but also provide a rewarding experience to the volunteers. I have met a handful of guests who participated in a Docent program that was offered up until 2011. Following the flood, the program just drifted away once the zoo was able to reopen.

I recall one gentleman sharing his story about how much he enjoyed being a part of the zoo and interacting with guests at his station in front of one of the animal exhibits. He was proud of all he had learned about the animals and being able to share that with guests visiting the zoo. Well, it is time to bring it all back, plus more.

We began by dividing volunteers into two groups. There will be trained volunteers who are expected to make a greater commitment of time and effort and the episodic volunteers who may come out once or twice a year individually or as part of a group. The trained volunteers will be utilized as part of the Docent program, assisting with education programming or educating guests on grounds.

We will also be opening opportunities for animal volunteers, whose tasks may range from working directly with the animal keepers to coming in for a couple of hours to assist with animal diets. Docent candidates will be managed by the Education Coordinator and the animal care volunteers by the Curator.

The episodic volunteers will be managed by the Public Programs Manager, who will be responsible for overseeing all the individuals and groups that wish to volunteer. And a new category of volunteers has been created that will fall under the episodic category. For individuals who have the desire but don’t necessarily know when they would be available, the Wild Bunch was created to meet that need. When a need arises for a project, event, or other activity, Wild Bunch volunteers will receive an email with all pertinent information and can elect to assist if their schedules allow it.

With this formalized program, there will be a greater commitment on behalf of the zoo to keep volunteers engaged with regular zoo updates and meaningful roles. Change is always a little rocky, which is why we took such painstaking efforts to get it organized so we could start off on the right foot. Stay tuned for a date and time to attend a Volunteer Fair at the zoo to learn more about how you can play your part in helping to make the Roosevelt Park Zoo the best it can be.

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