Helping Works

Anna Webb: ZooBoise attracts devoted, animal-loving volunteers

Volunteer Tristan Harris conferring with zoo resident Julius Longfellow.
Volunteer Tristan Harris conferring with zoo resident Julius Longfellow. Provided by ZooBoise.

When we first put out the call for volunteer stories to share in the Helping Works column on a weekly basis, one fact quickly emerged. Treasure Valley residents love animals. My email inbox was flooded with volunteer stories from the Idaho Humane Society, Simply Cats and ZooBoise. This week, in the first nonprofit community column of the new year, we focus on ZooBoise.

Tracy Bryan, volunteer coordinator, said that during the zoo’s busy season, March through October, 300 volunteers pitch in each week, including Zoo Naturalists, animal care volunteers, ZooTeen volunteers, and more. Volunteer positions also include “Conservation Cruise Captain.” These volunteers get to operate solar-powered pontoon boats on the zoo lagoon. The ZooTeen program began in 2001 with 13 volunteers. The program has grown to include 135 young volunteers who contributed close to 10,000 hours of service over one summer.

Here are a few stories from volunteers who love the zoo community.

From Valerie Webb:

This is my first year as a volunteer with ZooBoise. I have learned so much from the caring staff, the excited visitors and our animal ambassadors. It’s an awesome thing to give and find that through it, you are the one getting so much back in return. I love how ZooBoise has opportunities for not only adults, but for teens. The teen volunteers are a fantastic group. If you visit the zoo, look for the young folks in the blue ZooTeen volunteer shirts. They are so passionate and take their part at ZooBoise to heart. I have had the incredible opportunity to work with our amazing giraffes. When you get to be so close to one of these gentle giants, you feel how important conservation is. The next time you visit the zoo, take a moment to look at the beautiful eyes of an animal. You will feel a connection.

From Chris Storz:

I have volunteered as an animal care volunteer at ZooBoise for over two-and-a-half years now. I’m a prosecutor in La Grande, Ore., and drive to Boise to volunteer on Saturdays. I have always had a strong interest in working with animals. I worked as a ZooTeen volunteer during junior high at the Oregon Zoo in Portland and with a family of signing chimpanzees at Central Washington University in Ellensburg during my undergraduate years. My father instilled the value of volunteer work in me from a young age. He volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol division based out of Vancouver, Wash. He stressed the importance of finding an institution or a cause that you believe in and giving to it with nothing expected in return.

I have found that the most important factor in making the volunteer experience feel valuable for the volunteer is to make them feel needed — like the work couldn’t be done without them. At ZooBoise that is very true. Volunteers serve the zoo’s educational mission and help provide the basic animal care needs alongside zookeepers. Without volunteers, ZooBoise could not come close to achieving its mission. Tracy Bryan, ZooBoise’s volunteer coordinator, lets all the volunteers know that, as does the rest of the staff. You very much feel like a vital part of the team. That is why I volunteer there and why I will continue.

From Kelley Knowles:

I have volunteered for ZooBoise for three years. From the start, the volunteer leadership team has been extremely welcoming and knowledgeable. The staff trained us in customer relations, animals and animal handling. They continue to educate volunteers not only through the season, but also off-season, to ensure I am well educated when talking to our visitors. I have loved every minute of volunteering and have learned so much not only about the animals, but about animal conservation and how what we teach our visitors at ZooBoise affects so many animals worldwide.

As a volunteer I feel I am making a strong contribution to educating the public and have the tools and resources I need to be successful.

From Logan McClellin:

I’m a part of the ZooTeen volunteer program at ZooBoise. I’ve been volunteering here for about four years now and over 2,000 hours, which is the most any teenage volunteer has of all time, so there is a lot to tell. I started in 2012 when I was 13 going into 8th grade. Before that, I really hadn’t done much with my life. After going through a really big application process, an interview and a lot of paperwork, I was accepted into the volunteer program. The program was made to help visitors enjoy their visit and make it more educational and fun while teaching people about conservation of animals and helping the volunteers get something special or important out of their stay.

Every year we hold an orientation for the new ZooTeens. We spend two days going over every responsibility, which include being in charge of the Wallaby Walkabout, the butterfly exhibit and more. The ZooTeen coordinators did a swell job at what they were supposed to do; at orientation they made us feel welcome and helped us make it easier to talk to people, showed us the correct ways to do things in a comedic but professional way that really made people learn how to do things but still have fun.

My third summer volunteering at ZooBoise I was given more of a leadership role working with the new ZooTeens to help them get used to everything that happens in a zoo and getting comfortable talking to random strangers. I definitely felt like a mentor more than anything with the amount of trust and responsibility I was given. The summer of 2015 was by far one of my favorite times to volunteer and be with these wonderful people.

During these past months at the zoo, I could not have felt more welcome at a place other than my home and more trusted by people other than my family. To be honest, the zoo is almost like a second home with a second family. Working with the volunteers on a level of a coordinator really felt different since I am only 16 and most of the volunteers here are older. Since 2012, I have broken out of my shell and am able to speak to anyone who wants a conversation or who needs a quick pep talk. I can be a leader in ways I never thought I could, including being friendly while assertive (which does need a little work). I’ve learned more information about animals, conservation, people and culture than I ever imagined. I’ve made new friends and found my future career.

Think volunteering at ZooBoise is a fit for you? Check out the volunteer link on the zoo’s website or call 208-608-7760.

Quick takes: news from the nonprofit community

▪  Art Source Gallery hosts “Metamorphosis,” a show depicting transformation featuring local artists in a variety of fine art media. Through January, 1015 Main St. in Boise. The show opens First Thursday, Jan. 7 with music by cellist Rachel Nettles and wines from Indian Creek Winery, 4 to 9 p.m. Thirty percent of proceeds from sales will go to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.

Then, on Jan. 14 from 6 to 9 p.m., Rocci Johnson and friends will perform. The gallery will host live and silent auctions and a raffle to benefit the WCA. Admission is $10 at the door.

▪  The Victory Branch of the Ada Community Libraries hosts the Idaho Writers’ Compendium with Floyd Loomis, Cadi Gary and Leon Powers, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, 10664 W. Victory Rd. in Boise. Call 208-362-0181 for details. The library is billing the event as “three authors, three genres.” Those would be: realistic fiction, romance and nature. Come meet the authors and get up to date on the local literary scene.