By connecting to our neighbors, we are supporting our community with our expertise, connections, passion, and resources to be as safe, healthy, sustainable, and wildly natural as can be.

Rockdale Urban Learning Garden

Thanks to a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Reds Community Fund, and P&G, the Cincinnati Zoo developed a one-of-a-kind outdoor learning space right in the heart of Avondale. The Urban Learning Garden at Rockdale Academy, previously an idle acre of open greenspace, has been transformed into a biodiverse landscape that houses a variety of wildlife—from vegetables and fruiting trees, herbs, flowers, and other native plants, to the pollinator species like birds and insects that they attract. The result is a living classroom that can be used to nourish, educate, and inspire students at Rockdale through horticulture, science, and the outdoors.

This project continues to prove the Zoo’s long-term investment to Avondale’s students and the surrounding community, while incorporating and enhancing the Zoo’s existing programs such as Buzz Troop, Zoo Academy, Horticulture trials, ZooTeens, plant sales, and more! Together, the Zoo and Rockdale are researching, learning, sharing resources, and collectively growing—both literally and metaphorically—as champions of local biodiversity. There are more helping hands, more diverse ideas, and more urban habitat for wildlife in Cincinnati.

The Zoo’s board members and staff are fully committed for the long-haul, as are the Rockdale staff and Avondale Community Council. We use our vast networks and creative resources to ensure that this project lasts and is sustainable. As a model for the region, we hope to see learning landscapes like this spread throughout our city, our schools, and our communities.

Reds Community Makeover

Since 2013, the Cincinnati Zoo has partnered with the Reds Community Fund and P&G to transform underserved Cincinnati neighborhoods including upgrading and renovating community centers, baseball fields, and community gardens.

  • 2013: Gabriel’s Place & Hirsch Recreation Center, Avondale
  • 2014: Millvale Community Center, South Cumminsville
  • 2015: Seven Hills Neighborhood House, West End
  • 2016: Epsy Center & Evans Field, Lower Price Hill
  • 2017: Evanston – Hoffman School, Hoffman Ballfields and Wayne Lurix Memorial Nature Playscape
  • 2018: Roselawn – New Prospect Baptist Church and the Summit Center
  • 2019: St. Bernard – Ross Park, Frank Robinson Field and St. Bernard Community Room
  • 2020: Avondale: Larona Park/Avondale Beautification, Rockdale Academy, Rockdale/Harvey Ballfield and Park, U.S. Bank Boys & Girls Club & Crest Smile Shoppe, South Avondale Elementary School & Blair Ball Fields
  • 2021: Rockdale Urban Learning Garden

Avondale Thanksgiving

The Avondale Avenue District Block Club and Avondale Community Council has been hosting Thanksgiving Food Drives for a number of years. In 2013, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden joined with their community and brought the drive to a whole new level – providing enough support to feed every single family at Rockdale Academy a full Thanksgiving meal. Since 2013, Zoo staff has donated over $17,000 to feed our neighborhood. Along with community support and generous sponsorships, the Avondale Thanksgiving drive has fed 1,320 families since 2013, including families of Rockdale Academy, South Avondale Elementary, senior centers, and community members in Avondale.

Holiday Shop

December is a wonderful time for giving. 2015 brought us the first annual “Lion’s Share Holiday Shop”, where our SSA retail team collected donations from our staff and guests and set up a makeshift store that our community members from Rockdale Academy could “shop” from. This allows our staff to give back, and allows our parents to have choice in what is gifted to their children. After all, they know much better than we do! What results is a wonderful interaction between our staff and Rockdale Academy’s parents, allowing them to bond while picking out gifts for the children. While their parents are picking out gifts, the children are given opportunities to engage in environmental education, interact with animal ambassadors, and create arts and crafts. Since we began the Lion’s Share Holiday Shop, we have been able to provide over gifts for 62 families which include 176 children.

Avondale Running Club & Avondale Youth Council

Since January 2014, the Zoo has been a proud supporter of the Avondale Running Club and Avondale Youth Council by running with them on Saturday mornings, as well as sponsoring them to run in the Cheetah Run 5K every year.

Gabriel’s Place

A church on Reading Road had been converted into a community garden, community kitchen, a meeting place and market. The Zoo has been integral in assisting with the initial build and upkeep of the community garden and hoop house. As Gabriel’s Place grows, the Zoo continues to stay involved to assist with programs, garden tasks, volunteering, and other projects. Highlighted programs include weekly Share-a-Meal, Family Nights, and the Marketplace.

Habitat for Humanity

The Zoo welcomes the chance to partner with Habitat for Humanity when possible to build futures for our neighbors. Our facilities team is one of the absolute best in the country, and we can use that expertise, skill set, passion, and knowledge to support building opportunities.

Community Garden/Green Space

Community green spaces are more than just lots with grass and a few flowers; they are meeting spots for neighbors, recreation areas for youth, refuges for wildlife. They bring the natural world into the urban environment. Community spaces foster connections not only with wildness, but between residents, making friends from strangers. Community green spaces can be as simple as a grassy lot, but they can be more: parks, playgrounds, and gardens.

Community gardens can be found just about anywhere. While providing spaces for residents to gather and connect, community gardens can provide healthy foods. Food deserts are areas where healthy, affordable food cannot be obtained, most commonly in urban settings. These communities do not have the same accessibility to fresh food that is high quality and affordable. Throughout Avondale, the Zoo has assisted with many projects that encourage green space and community gardens, contributing healthy food environments in the middle of a food dessert.

  • Forest and Vine Gateway: The corner of Forest Avenue and Vine Street was the site of three vacant and deteriorating houses. With the help of the Cincinnati Zoo, local company Building Value deconstructed these three homes in 2010. Approximately 85% the material from the homes was salvaged to be reused or recycled. The site is now a welcoming gateway into Avondale.
  • Ruther Triangle
  • Beldare/Hilltop Community Garden
  • City Barn Community Garden
  • Northern-Larona Community Park: A vacant, run down, poison ivy and trash filled lot was transformed into the Northern-Larona Community Park in 2010 thanks to a team of dedicated residents led by Sheila Holmes Howard. As the president of the Avondale Avenue District Block Club, Sheila and the Zoo teamed up along with Local Initiative Support Cooperation (LISC) and Chase Bank to turn this lot into a safe and vibrant park. Since its creation, the park has been home to seasonal clean ups and yearly block parties bringing together and celebrating the community while creating valuable habitat for urban wildlife.

Inspiring individuals, families, and community members to become better or stronger stewards of the environment while protecting, restoring, rebuilding, and growing local wildlife habitat and enhancing ecosystem services through classes, programs, events, and service projects.

Get involved! Learn how to join the Zoo in making a positive difference through Community Service here.


Rockdale Academy

The Zoo is proud to be partners with the elementary school just two blocks away. Connecting with students, supporting families, and inspiring future conservationists aligns well with our mission, and allows our staff the chance to bond with some incredible people. Some programs we participate in include Adopt-a-Class, the afterschool Green Team Program, Fields Days, food drives, and more.

Green Tours & Talks

Over 4,000 people a year hear from the Zoo’s Sustainability Team about their green initiatives, and most importantly, be inspired to make conservation changes themselves in their homes, schools, and businesses.

Public Events

These events provide opportunities for our community to come to the Zoo to learn more about sustainable living, resources available to them, all while connecting them to wildlife and conservation.

Education Programs

Education Programs


Little Miami River Clean Up

Every year, the Zoo supports the Little Miami River and Morgan’s Canoe & Campground by conducting a river clean up along 3-9 miles of the river.

Ohio River Clean Up

2016 was the first year we join Living Lands & Waters, the only “Industrial Strength” river cleanup operation like it in the world, for their Ohio River cleanup. Living Lands & Waters operates on a one-of-a-kind fleet of barges, on which they host community-based river cleanups and educational workshops, held on a floating classroom. We collected 3,284.5 pounds of garbage along the banks of the Ohio and are looking forward to helping again this summer.

Pollen Nation

Pollen Nation is a diverse group of zoo employees and friends working towards raising awareness and increasing the population of the European honeybee. Through public keeper chats on grounds, maintaining two beehives, and providing public education and awareness through programs and events, Pollen Nation is determined to promote pollinator awareness and re-wild habitats while inspiring action. In addition to the two hives on grounds, Pollen Nation voluntarily manages the 17 hives at our Bowyer Farm in Warren County.

Providing opportunities for individuals to build skills and capacity within the workforce, live more sustainably, and creating environmental connections for healing.

Light Up Avondale

Light up Avondale volunteers and workersLight Up Avondale

In 2017, thanks to the support from the Duke Class Benefit Fund, the Zoo was given $425,000 to transition to all-LED, including our spectacular annual PNC Festival of lights. Another part of the Light Up Avondale Project is to undertake a major extension of energy efficiency efforts into the Avondale community surrounding the Zoo. These efforts include facilitating the installment of LED lighting in homes, community organizations, churches, and 50 “trouble spots” around Avondale where fresh, efficient lighting could be used to increase safety and security.

In addition to LED-lighting, the goal of the project is to connect our community with conservation, as well as to the many resources available from other organizations within Avondale and Uptown Cincinnati.

ArtWorks & City Barn

2014, A team of three professional artists and eight youth Apprentices worked with a lead artist to create artwork for the City Barn window panels, as well as paint a mural on the south side of the City Barn building.  The 1,465-square foot “canvas” took 6-8 weeks to complete.

VIBE Design Charrette

Voices in the Built Environment is a group for youth to learn more about urban planning, architecture, design, and sustainable development. In 2015, our Director of Planning and Exhibit Design led a charrette exposing these individuals to the design process and encouraging them to use their voice.

Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati Partnership

Since 2010, the Zoo and Easterseals have worked together to deconstruct houses and build bins out of recycled material that help with our waste reduction, at the same time creating opportunities for adults with disadvantages or disabilities to learn valuable skills that will allow them to enter the workforce.

Home Health & Sustainability

The Zoo and its community partners are reaching out to their surrounding neighborhoods to provide the education, awareness and resources needed for homeowners to save money and energy, and to create healthy, comfortable living environments through home weatherization projects. Some of these projects include:

  • Avondale in Action: In August 2011, the Zoo, People Working Cooperatively (PWC), the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) and Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) worked together with community volunteers to offer six Avondale, making them more energy efficient and more comfortable for residents.
  • Green Your Home Contest: In the summer of 2011, residents of the five Uptown neighborhoods had a chance to win a grand prize of $7,500 of home energy upgrades made possible by the Zoo, the GCEA and the Uptown Consortium. Additionally, one winner from each neighborhood received a free home energy audit.
  • Light Up Avondale Project: In 2017, the Zoo will be working with the Avondale community to facilitate the installment of LED lighting in at least 1,500 homes and approximately 20 community organizations, while conducting education and outreach programs to promote the cost, energy, and health savings of using LEDs. In addition, this project will identify trouble spots around Avondale where fresh, efficient lighting could be used to increase safety and security.

Rockdale Academy

Students at Rockdale come from mostly single parent homes.  97% of the students are on free or reduced lunch.  The student population is very transient due to its high homeless population.  Parents who work do not make enough money to purchase the extras their children need, such as school supplies, uniforms, hygiene products, and food. Often, the school is providing as much of this as they can.

South Avondale

South Avondale Students are at the center of Cincinnati’s most poverty stricken neighborhoods.  100% of their students are on the free and reduced lunch program.  South Avondale is a highly transient community, causingtheir children to move from school to school at least twice a year if not more.  Students at South Avondale come to school hungry, dirty and exhausted from a lack of sleep.  Each day is a challenge to teach because their teachers spend the first 15-20 minutes making sure children have had breakfast or has multiple interruptions due to tardiness. South Avondale is a safe haven for these students.  The staff tries to provide the basic needs such as clean clothes, food and school supplies as often as they can.

Zoo Academy

The majority of Zoo Academy (ZA) students come from the Greater Cincinnati area, and ZA is a part of the urban Hughes High School.  80% of Hughes’ students qualify for free or reduced lunch, meaning they have a family income that is below national average.  25% of ZA students are on an IEP, Individual Education Plan, a legal document that requires teachers to provide extra support for their specific educational needs.  Many of ZA students come from single parent homes.  Many students have to get their siblings ready for school because their parent works third shift.  For some students, life can be very challenging, but most have good family support and healthy homes. Overall, the Zoo Academy provides a safe, supportive, consistent environment that is beneficial to every student regardless of their background.  The professional interactions between students and Zoo staff provides them with invaluable work experience and business relationships that help prepare them for work outside of their school careers.  Working with supportive adults gives every student a safe place to learn the workings and requirements needed to succeed.