National Volunteer WeekVolunteer Spotlight

April 24, 2017

Happy National Volunteer Week!

In 2016, the Virginia Zoo had 642 volunteers serve 24,760 hours at the Zoo.  To put that into perspective, that equates to the work of about 12 full-time employees.  We are able to do so much more at the Zoo because of our amazing volunteers.  To thank our volunteers for all of the incredible work that they do, we are celebrating National Volunteer Appreciation Week April 23-29.  We hope you will join us in thanking our volunteers this week and throughout the year!

Volunteer Program Coordinator Kristine Kastenbaum says, “When I am in my zoo uniform, the question I get asked most often is, ‘What animal do you work with?’  My answer?  Volunteers.  It catches most people by surprise, but I love talking to people about the many different aspects involved in working at a zoo.”

We have our animal care staff and veterinary team that help take care of the animals at the Virginia Zoo.  We also have horticulture, maintenance, events, education, restaurant, gift shop, train, ticket booth, accounting, marketing, and many other staff members.  Our volunteers assist most, if not all, of these departments.

Our Zoo Crew volunteers help in a variety of areas, including educating visitors about our animals, assisting with special events, scooping up poop in the ZooFarm, presenting education animals, leading school programs, filing and shredding paper, and helping with our family programs… just to name a few.

Our Zoo Friend volunteers assist our horticulture team in maintaining the 53 acres of gardens and exhibit space, help with special events, and create fun enrichment items for the animals.  If you have ever seen decorative boxes or paper chains in an animal exhibit, those were created by volunteers.

Our Conservation Youth Team volunteers are high school students that educate visitors about our animals throughout the summer and assist with our summer camp programs.  They also volunteer for our Education events, like Party for the Planet and Endangered Species Day.

Finally, our group volunteers help with any big project that we have. Most often, this involves working with our horticulture team or creating enrichment for the animals.

We sat down and interviewed some of our very own Zoo Crew volunteers who help play a role in the Virginia Zoo’s day-to-day operations. These friendly faces are some of the many people who volunteer at the Zoo to assist staff in various departments, as well as venture out on Zoo grounds to educate the public on our more than 500 animals and 11 gardens. Continue reading to learn about some of our awesome volunteers!

Kristine Kastenbaum (in the center of the picture)

Q1. How long have you been the Volunteer Program Coordinator for the Virginia Zoo?

  • I’ve been working at the Virginia Zoo for just over a year! I started in March 2016 and have loved every minute of it.

Q2. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

  • I would definitely be a snow leopard. They are my favorite animals because they are very majestic and graceful. Snow leopards are able to run up and down vertical mountains to catch prey. I can barely walk on a flat surface. I would love to have their coordination!

Q3. What has been your favorite memory or experience while volunteering here?

  • It’s hard to pick a favorite experience, since every day is very different. I love training new volunteers – they are always so enthusiastic and eager to learn all there is to know at the zoo. It is a very rewarding experience to work with volunteers, since they come to the zoo every day not because of a paycheck, but because they are very passionate about what we do. I also love any opportunity to present our education animals! Beatrice the chicken is one of my favorites. She is always ready for an adventure!

BOB VANDYKE

Q1. How long have you been volunteering at the Virginia Zoo?

  • Nine years in June.

Q2. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

  • A Malayan tapir.  They spend their days resting in the shade, they don’t have to go out if it’s cold and they get to poop and pee in the pool!

Q3. What has been your favorite memory or experience while volunteering here?

  • I was trail hosting in Africa one weekend.  Emery Wyatt, who won one of the Zoo To Do silent auctions in 2016 to name the Malayan tiger cubs and is now a member of the Zoo Crew, walked past with a small group. I gave them some information about the bongos and as they walked away I heard Emery say, “That’s Bob – he’s the reason I became a volunteer.”  I said to Emery, “C’mon on now.  You volunteer because of Stubbley.”  His reply was, “No, I came to the zoo because of Stubbley, but I became a volunteer because of you.”
MEREDITH BOWLES

Q1. How long have you been volunteering at the Virginia Zoo?

  • About a year now, but it seems like I’ve been here forever.  I grew up in this area and the zoo has always been a part of my life.  It’s been amazing to watch it grow and progress into something the entire community can really be proud of.  I’m so excited about all the ways I get to help out the staff and educate the public as a volunteer!

Q2. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

  • That is a really difficult question!  I love so many animals it’s hard to choose. Wolves and okapi are two of my favorites, but I would have to say I would probably be a crocodile.  They’re majestic, powerful, and doesn’t laying around soaking up the sun all the time sound great?

Q3. What has been your favorite memory or experience while volunteering here?

  • My favorite experience volunteering at the zoo is any time I get to talk to a guest and help them get excited about conservation, especially children.  Just recently, I was talking to a four year old boy about the animals in our giraffe yard, and even though he was very young, he asked very good, insightful questions. I feel like he and his dad walked away having really learned something new about our wonderful animals and why what we do is so important.
EVELYN LEWIS

Q1. How long have you been volunteering at the Virginia Zoo?

  • It will be 5 years in August!

Q2. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

  • A giraffe; I would love the view of the whole Savanna.

Q3. What has been your favorite memory or experience while volunteering here?

  • I was trail hosting in Asia by the siamangs when some kids ran up to see them and asked if they were monkeys or apes. I started explaining the difference and the kids got really excited, and  they continued to ask me question after question. One then turned to me and said “I can’t wait to tell my friends what I learned!” I swear my heart melted.
MIRANDA STERN (ON THE RIGHT IN THE PICTURE)

Q1. How long have you been volunteering at the Virginia Zoo?

  • I’ve been volunteering at the Virginia Zoo for about a year.

Q2. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?

  • If I could be any animal at the zoo, I’d be a siamang. They have incredible swinging abilities, and always seem to have an endless supply of energy. Not to mention, siamangs have quite the unique singing voice!

Q3. What has been your favorite memory or experience while volunteering here?

  • My favorite experience from volunteering at the zoo has been learning from the many departments around the zoo. From working in the gardens with horticulture, assisting the Zoo Keepers at the ZooFarm and helping the education staff with programming, I’ve been able to explore the incredible work everyone here at the zoo does on a daily basis. As a student hoping to one day work in the zoo field, I’m definitely grateful for the many learning opportunities available to me through Zoo Crew!

Did you know that there are several ways to volunteer at the Virginia Zoo? Zoo volunteers are a creative group of dedicated community members, each possessing a unique passion and desire to share the natural world with our visitors. The volunteer program provides professional development opportunities, fun social events, regular recognition of service and many opportunities to learn about and get inside knowledge of the Zoo and conservation activities. Learn more about volunteering at the Zoo here.