Posts Tagged With: Youth Volunteers Program

Teen volunteers leave the Zoo for inspiring overnight adventure

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Nature Bound 162

Nature Bound teens included: Kalen Beacham, Kaleigh Beacham, Christian Hernandez, Xavier Hernandez, Wessie Simmons, Tylah Thurman, Victoria Langham, Jane Giles, Ethan Casas, and David Jester.

Dallas Zoo’s youth volunteer coordinator Courtney Crawford (and her teen volunteers) guest-blog on ZooHoo!

The Dallas Zoo’s Youth Volunteer program is in year No. 28, and it’s been a huge success, with more applicants than spots. As the youth volunteer coordinator, I’m always looking for ways to help our volunteers gain new experiences, learn more, and prepare them for their futures after high school. I truly believe “my” kids are going to be agents for change in our environment, and an inspiration to future generations.

So I decided to take an elite group of 10 youth volunteers off-site for a trip filled with fun, educational experiences, away from the hubbub of the city and a little bit closer to nature. Our destination: Glen Rose, Texas. This soon-to-be annual trip is called Nature Bound, and here’s a firsthand account of our adventure, written by the teens themselves:

We arrived at the Dallas Zoo on Monday afternoon and waved goodbye to our parents as we packed up the big Dallas Zoo van, headed for Nature Bound 807Glen Rose. The ride there was about an hour and a half, so we all talked and really got along well. When we arrived at Fossil Rim Wildlife center, we headed to the Children’s Animal Center, where we had a blast with the adorable goats and emus.

Afterward, we went on an amazing tour of the park. We went behind the scenes to see the Attwater’s prairie chicken. We learned that it’s one of the most endangered birds in Texas, and Fossil Rim is a part of the breeding program to help bring their numbers up. The chicks were incredible!

We also got to see (and smell) the maned wolves, a naturally musky and unique species native to South America. After learning about the species at Fossil Rim and what they are doing to help, we went to dinner before heading back to the cabins for some sleep.

The following morning, a few of us rose early to watch the sunrise and catch a view of some wildlife, while a couple of the groggier teens waited until breakfast. Soon we set off for Dinosaur Valley State Park, where we met staff members Nicole and Candace, who told us about their education and how it prepared them for careers in conservation. We toured various areas of the park and learned how each department worked together to run the park.

Next, we moved on to do some trail maintenance, lopping off wayward branches and vines while clearing litter from the path. Maintaining the trails keeps the land clean and keeps people safe while hiking. Afterward we broke for lunch, enjoying a brief blast from the past as we played on the swings and climbed rocks like little kids. Our next project was cleaning out a patch of invasive Japanese honeysuckle. We learned the importance of native plants and animals and how invasive species can affect the environment.

That evening, we returned to Fossil Rim and ventured into the park for a night tour. Armed with flashlights, cameras and a bucket of feed, we toured the park yet again, but this time we noticed new things. Some of the animals who had been much more active during our daytime tour seemed to be a little sleepier, while others who were hidden away in the trees during the day paid our tour van a special visit during the cooler evening hours. One of those was the elusive bongo. Many people drive right past them during the day, as they blend in easily with the forested corner of their pasture. But in the quiet of the evening, the bongos came right up to our van! It was so cool to see an endangered species so closely.

Nature Bound 795After returning to the cabin, we had a campfire and s’mores before doing some serious stargazing.  The sky in Glen Rose was completely filled with stars and planets! Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were visible.

Wednesday morning, we packed up the cabins at Fossil Rim and headed back to Dinosaur Valley State Park to partake in our final project for Nature Bound. Nicole and Candace taught us about citizen science and how we can help scientists identify plants and animals in the area. They split us into two groups. One group searched for different species of birds, while the other sought out different species of plants, using the app iNaturalist to upload photos and location information.

We concluded our experience with final remarks from Nicole and Candace about the future of conservation and careers in environmental science. Soon after, we began our trip home. Exhausted from the past two days’ activities, the ride back was a little quieter than before. Upon arrival, we said our goodbyes, knowing that this was not the end of our journey to a more sustainable ecosystem.

We were honored to be given a glimpse of how our efforts can create a thriving environment for wildlife across the globe. We were introduced to possible careers relating to environmental conservation, and the friendships we forged made the experience ever more enjoyable.

Learn more about our Youth Volunteers program.

Categories: Conservation, Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

As they grow, teens help grow Zoo, too

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Dallas Zoo’s youth volunteer coordinator Courtney Crawford guest blogs on ZooHoo!

Did you know the Dallas Zoo has one of the biggest zoological Youth Volunteer Programs in the country? We have space to place more than 400 volunteers at a time in jobs such as Junior Zookeepers, Conservation Guides, Aquarium Guides and Junior Camp Counselors.

Since 1988, children ages 11-18 who are passionate about conservation (just like us!) have helped make us the best zoo possible.

And the program is growing! This year we rolled out a new job – Park Ambassador. What really sets this program apart is that these volunteers must be 16-18 years old and have already volunteered with us for at least one session. This program also gives our up-and-coming volunteers another fun position to work towards.

While you may have seen Youth Volunteers throughout the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo (where they have mainly worked for the past 26 years), Park Ambassadors are now helping all around the zoo to educate visitors about our animals and wildlife conservation. Many of our Park Ambassadors have volunteered since they were 11, and have logged hundreds of hours.

Volunteering with us is a 10- to 12-week commitment. But ask any of our kids – they’ll tell you it’s well worth it.

“My biggest personal challenge has always been talking to strangers,” said Park Ambassador Erin Estep. “This program has helped me to overcome it more than I already have with other programs.”

These children truly do make a difference in our park by engaging visitors, spreading awareness about wildlife conservation, and ensuring our guests enjoy their time with us. One visitor recently said their zoo visit was “really special because of a couple of thoughtful and knowledgeable young volunteers.”

It’s inspiring to see these young people engaging visitors and dedicating their time to help others learn about our natural world. I love watching them grow in knowledge and confidence through the years, and even through one volunteer session.

“I volunteer at the Dallas Zoo because I love animals, and I want to make a difference in the community,” said Kenzi Appell, one of our very first Park Ambassadors in 2015.

Our Park Ambassadors have gone beyond the comforts of their “home” in the Children’s Zoo to Simmons Safari Base Camp and our Herpetarium to share the Dallas Zoo’s conservation messages. By helping the Zoo educate visitors, Youth Volunteers also achieve personal growth that will help them succeed as they grow into young adults.

Our Youth Volunteers are key helpers in supporting the Dallas Zoo’s mission of “Conserving Wildlife and Inspiring a Passion for Nature,” and it brings me great joy to be able to expand the program and provide even more opportunities for our dedicated and passionate volunteers.

Our NEW Park Ambassador program kicks off again Sept. 6. For more information about all of our Youth Volunteer Programs and how to apply, CLICK HERE.

Check out this slideshow of some of our Park Ambassadors sharing why they volunteer at the Dallas Zoo. Photos by Courtney Crawford and Shannon Linton.

Kenzie Appell
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Categories: Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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