April 24, 2020
By Elena Bell, Marketing and PR Manager and Erica Rymer, Events and Marketing Coordinator
It's Volunteer Appreciation Week and the Akron Zoo would like to thank all of our dedicated Edzoocators and teen volunteers who have donated their time and talents over the last year to improve your Akron Zoo experience! Volunteers donate over 13,000 hours a year; that is a value of $279,000! They help us achieve our mission of connecting your life with wildlife and inspiring lifelong conservation action by helping with special events, giving animal encounters, teaching guests about animals while roaming the zoo and even doing important prep work behind the scenes. To celebrate, we wanted you to meet a few of our hard working volunteers!
EdZoocator Jessica Kralik
Jessica became a volunteer at the Akron Zoo in 2015 because she loves talking about our animals with guests. She is especially passionate about sharing information with guests about how they can take conservation actions in their personal lives to help wildlife and endangered species. Her favorite animals to highlight are our big cats, especially the snow leopards! In fact, one of her favorite volunteering experiences took place at the snow leopard habitat.
“One day I was at the snow leopard habitat and a gentleman and his wife came over,” said Jessica. “I heard her begin to describe, in detail, the space. I realized that her husband was blind, so I began to help explain what the snow leopard looked like in detail and share a bit about where they are from. When the couple was ready to leave, the wife thanked me with a big smile. This experience reminds me why I love volunteering and the difference we can make!”
Teen Volunteer Maddy Hicks
Maddy has been an Akron Zoo teen volunteer since 2019. Her lifelong dream is to work with animals, so she applied to the junior interpreter program for the opportunity to start her journey. Her favorite volunteer activities are working with kids during ZooCamp and interacting with guests in our Learning Lab. She especially loved volunteering during Dreamnight, an event in partnership with Akron Children’s Hospital for patients and their families.
“Seeing the children and their families enjoying a great evening out experiencing the animals, games and activities was one of the most meaningful experiences I have had at the zoo,” said Maddy. “I have really enjoyed my first year volunteering at the Akron Zoo, and I am looking forward to many more!”
Teen Volunteer Zach Suarez
Zach aspires to be a veterinarian one day. Since vet school is very competitive, Zach knew that real-life experience would stand out more than good grades, so he applied to the Akron Zoo’s junior interpreter program in 2019. After working hard throughout the summer, Zach accumulated over 240 volunteer hours and was recently accepted into his dream school, Cornell University!
As a junior interpreter, Zach’s favorite volunteer activity is the Learning Lab. He loves witnessing the guests’ reaction to the different animals and educating people on the importance of animals that come in small packages. However, his best experience at the zoo occurred in a moment he didn’t even realize, while he and another volunteer were on their way to lunch.
“While walking down the hill one day, a guest asked for directions,” said Zach. “After some instructions, my peer and I made some small talk with the guest’s child about the character on his shirt, then headed off to lunch. Little did we know this had impacted the young child immensely. The mother later emailed Shelley, the Akron Zoo’s Volunteer Manager, describing how her son wasn’t having a good day until our interaction. He apparently insisted on wearing the shirt for days following our encounter. I had no idea how one little action could change someone’s day, but this moment has influenced me to continue going out of my way whenever I can!”
EdZoocator Marilynn Willkom
Marilynn became a zoo volunteer in 2018 to get involved with animals and the public. She always enjoyed visiting the zoo and learning fun facts and stories about the animals, and she wanted to be able to pass this on to others. Marilynn’s favorite volunteer activity is acting as Potter the Otter. She loves playing a giant, goofy, lovable otter and dancing, waving and posing for pictures with everyone. One of her favorite experiences as Potter occurred during the Akron Zoo’s Owl Be Your Valentine event.
“Owl Be Your Valentine is a day for families to come out and make valentines for the animals,” explained Marilynn. “Some of the large animals were given enrichment items and I walked with the families to each habitat as the enrichment was put out. As we waited, I hugged the kids, had my picture taken and made friends as I usually do. I am smiling from ear to ear in every picture-- even though no one can see me! As I was leaving the lion habitat, Donovan spotted me and he would not take his eyes off me! He wasn’t sure what to make of Potter. It was very entertaining for the guests and thankfully he could only admire me from a distance!”
EdZoocator Whilma Sackett
Whilma has always loved animals, so after retirement she wanted to volunteer somewhere that would include being around animals. Whilma has been a volunteer at the Akron Zoo since 2016. She has many favorite volunteer activities, but she especially loves greeting guests at special events. As an added bonus, she also appreciates how many new close friends she has made since becoming a volunteer. One of her favorite Akron Zoo moments occurred when Whilma played the “Queen” at the King and Queen station during Boo at the Zoo.
“I heard a little girl ask her Mom if I was a real Queen,” said Whilma. “Apparently her Mom told her I was, because she came running back and curtsied in front of me and blew me a kiss. That certainly made me smile and I blew her a kiss too!”
Teen Volunteer Ellie Siegfried
Ellie has been an Akron Zoo volunteer since 2017. She grew up coming to the Akron Zoo and taking classes, so she couldn’t wait to be a volunteer where she could educate guests about our animals and give them an amazing experience. Ellie’s favorite volunteer activity is doing habitat talks, especially the grizzly bears.
“One of my favorite memories at the zoo is when the juniors took a behind the scenes tour at grizzly!," said Ellie. "Jackson and Cheyenne are my favorite animals at the zoo so it made the experience even better! Shelley and the keepers made it an experience I will never forget!”
Teen Volunteer Sarah Spencer
Sarah has always been interested in working with mammals and aquatics, so she became a junior interpreter in 2018 to gain experience working with animals. Sarah's favorite volunteer activity is habitat talks. She loves seeing the looks on people's faces when they learn something new about animals, which inspires her!
"Applying for the volunteer program is one of the best decisions I've ever made," said Sarah. "I have made so many friends, learned more about the animals, and have gained so much experience for my future career. I have learned so much about conservation as well and in this day and age the more people that know about it the more we can save our environment and animals!"
How to Get Involved
There Akron Zoo offers two volunteer programs. The adult program, Edzoocators, offers opportunities to participate in special events, community displays, education programs and horticulture. Our teen volunteer program is also available for students ages 14-18 who would like to help with education programs and special events. To learn more about volunteering at the Akron Zoo, visit our Volunteer page, or contact our Education Department at 330-375-2550 ext. 7286.
Becoming a volunteer is a great way to make a difference in the lives of our animals and the Summit County community. We truly could not do what we do without the contributions of our volunteers, so thank you!