When I was 15 years old, I started volunteering at the Cincinnati Zoo as a part of what is now called the Zoo Teen program. One of the highlights of my participation was working with one of the Education team members, who frequently guided and motivated us through our everyday activities. This person was an AmeriCorps member, and I was inspired by their commitment to community service and the Zoo. So much so, that I made it a goal to serve in the program too someday.
If you’re not familiar with the national AmeriCorps program, it is a federally funded full-time service opportunity for people who are looking to contribute meaningfully within their community. If you’d like to know more about AmeriCorps, check out their website. If you want to know more about AmeriCorps at the Zoo, take a peak at this previous blog post.
Eight years later, here I am, currently serving my second year of AmeriCorps. It definitely hasn’t been a direct path for me, and for a long time I gave up on my dream of serving at the Zoo. However, since August, I have been serving almost every day here at this beautiful place, and I have a pretty cool position (if I do say so myself).
A few days a week I get to go out on Zoo grounds with some of our animal ambassadors as a part of the Wild Encounters team. For the rest of the week, I shift gears and focus on visitor studies projects. As a group, the Zoo is always trying to be the best it can be. Part of that is understanding what kind of conservation messages we are sending out to our visitors through our chats, programs, and signage. We also seek to learn how our visitors are impacted by these messages, and how we can better spread wildlife and conservation knowledge to everyone. This involves asking questions, doing research, and sometimes lots and lots of guest surveys. If you ever see us out on grounds, help us out and take a survey!
Also as a part of my role, I serve in helping to bring the Build a Better Home for Wildlife campaign to life. In this initiative, we aim to help visitors know how they can continue to learn about and help animals, even after they leave the Zoo. Our own backyards are amazing places where wildlife live every day, and there is a lot that we can do to help give them better homes. Here are the four actions we recommend to everyone that can help build a better home for wildlife in your life:
- Create a shelter. This can be a bird house, a bee house, or a toad abode!
- Feed the birds. It is important to never feed birds bread, as it is bad for their bodies. Black-oil sunflower seed is the best option for most birds!
- Grow pollinator-friendly plants. They will do wonders for wildlife in your backyard. Not only do they attract pollinators like butterflies, they also create a great habitat for bugs, the food source of many other animals.
- Join the Zoo’s Family Community Service program. In addition to creating a better space for wildlife around your own living area, you can join the Zoo in our opportunities to get more involved with conservation efforts.
So far, I’ve really valued the opportunity to live my dream and continue to serve my community through AmeriCorps at the Cincinnati Zoo. Applications for all of our positions open up in early spring, so if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into community engagement and conservation, keep up with the jobs section of our website. I’m glad that I am living my dream, and maybe you could too!