“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
Children get that question often as they grow and their answers frequently change through the years. But for the 45 Junior Curator (JC) teen volunteers at the Zoo, their answers are simple and similar, “I want to help animals.” Whether desiring to become a zookeeper, veterinarian or field researcher, some teens decide to begin following their dreams at an early age and essentially “grow up” as JCs at the Zoo.
Through the JC program, teens aged 14-17 are able to work side-by-side with our Zoo team to see how the Zoo works behind-the-scenes. The teens each devote at least 110 hours each volunteer season, preparing animal diets, cleaning exhibits, making animal enrichment items, caring for our botanical garden and educating our guests about conservation. Through all of this knowledge, JCs are able explore various zoo-related careers to find their life’s passion while gaining valuable, résumé-worthy experience that can propel them towards their career goals.
While the work of JCs can be challenging, the teens are always making special memories with our animals that make it all worthwhile. They love to gush about how they got their first kiss from a sea lion, or the first time they overcame their fear and touched a snake. They take great joy in watching the bears play with a special enrichment item that they created and helping flamingo chicks take their first steps outdoors. Some JCs have even enjoyed feeding the giant snakehead fish or assisting our veterinary staff give a medical exam to a gorilla. These cherished memories last a lifetime!
Of course, these teens tend to highly treasure their animal experiences, but many say the primary benefits have been in the form of “life lessons” that helped them mature and grow up. Through the program, the JCs develop skills in responsibility, time management, communication and professionalism. They even learn basic practical skills such as how to do laundry, dishes and yard maintenance. They also gain an understanding of how to create a résumé, apply for a job and prepare for an interview. Furthermore, these teens discover how their actions influence the world’s wildlife and their local community. They learn that the little things they do in their everyday lives can make a big difference for animals.
So, Oklahoma teenagers, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Come, join the Zoo’s Junior Curator program. You can make a huge difference in the world! For more information, visithttp://www.okczoo.org/volunteer.
--Melissa Kesler, Zoo naturalist instructor