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Volunteering Gives a Future and a Heart

In the summer of 1995, I became a volunteer with the Sacramento Zoo and embarked on a journey that has continued to be an important part of my life to this day. I continued volunteering as a Summer Camp Counselor the following two summers. As my knowledge of conservation and animals grew, my summer volunteer hours turned into a weekly commitment as an intern in the Sacramento Zoo’s Interpretive Center.

While I enjoyed working closely with the animals, my educational desires did not follow the path of science or biology; eventually I traded time at the Zoo to follow pursuits in art and communications. What I didn’t know then was that my personal interests and education would eventually bring me back to the Zoo, working full-time as the marketing coordinator.

Today, I remain happy to see the Zoo has thriving volunteer programs.  Zoo Teens is a program I’m especially fond of as it is exclusively for youth between 13 and 19 years old who volunteer from August to May to share their interests in animals, the earth and our community by encouraging Zoo patrons to become better stewards of the earth.

Heart Enrichment
Heart Enrichment

One event that relies heavily on the support of Zoo Teens is I Heart the Sacramento Zoo, a Valentine-themed enrichment day for the animals.  This year’s event will take place on Sunday, February 9.  Zoo Teens use non-toxic materials to create papier-mâché gifts for the animals.  In preparation for last year’s event, Catelyn, a high school junior who is now in her second year as a Zoo Teen shares, “I got to go behind the scenes and put the enrichments into the Chimpanzee’s exhibit.  It was really fun.”

Not only do the Zoo Teens create the enrichments given to the animals, they also run educational activity stations for Zoo patrons to enjoy.  In recognition of the drought, Zoo Teens will have several activity stations dedicated to water conservation during this year’s I Heart the Sacramento Zoo event.

As Zoo Teens interact with guests they also learn public speaking skills and gain confidence.  Catelyn admits to being shy when she first started, but now says, “I love meeting new people and being around the animals.”

Not only do Zoo Teens experience rare behind the scenes at the Sacramento Zoo, the program also encourages youth to excel in school while providing practical skills for their future career aspirations – I should know!

If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering at the Sacramento Zoo, please check out saczoo.org for more info.

About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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