Visit the Zoo on the weekend, and you may see more than our animal residents! Our Zoo Teens are stationed throughout the Zoo ready to teach guests about the amazing work and care that goes on behind the scenes for all of our animals.
The Zoo currently has over 120 active Zoo Teen volunteers trained in educational outreach with the Discovery Carts for learners of all ages. As a team, they raise funds for conservation and education programs, assist staff throughout the zoo while gaining valuable experience for careers in conservation education, and help with the Zoo’s special events!
Applications are currently open for this special program! They close on Sunday, October 8.
Evie Meckes, an education specialist working with Zoo Teens program, says that anyone should apply if they are, “from the ages of 13 to 16, and are interested in growing and learning more about conservation and more about themselves.”
“They’re my favorite group in the world to work with,” Evie said, “because I think they’re a really underestimated group of people. Getting kids to really engage in these activities and care about things is something that I’m really passionate about.”
After being accepted into the program, Zoo Teens attend training for volunteering at the zoo, which usually lasts about a month over several weekends. This training prepares Zoo Teens for their various duties while they learn about the animals and diverse work that goes on at our Zoo.
“The bulk of their Zoo Teen duties is going to be through their guest engagement days,” explained Evie. These guest engagement days include leading the Discovery Carts and creating memorable interactive experiences for guests. In addition, Zoo Teens also participate in conservation events such as beach cleanups, workshops with Restore Our Shores, and organizing the annual Youth Environmental Summit.
Brandon Eckerd, an education specialist responsible for mentoring and training Zoo Teens , shared that, “the primary goal of the teen program is to provide an opportunity for youth in the community to gain valuable career insights in this field of science, as well as opportunities for them to engage with nature and conservation in a meaningful way.”
Catherine, a 16-year-old Zoo Teen, reflects that one of her favorite experiences with Zoo Teens was a wildflower sale to raise awareness for native plants and raise money for conservation programs. “The Florida Wildflower Sale was really fun because I got to work one of the stands where you sell the wildflowers and I got to work on the scavenger hunt too.”
In addition to connecting teens to conservation, the Zoo Teen program provides an opportunity for teen volunteers to get hours for scholarships and experience exploring career possibilities.
“We try to set them up for success in the future for things such as internships or other opportunities here at Brevard Zoo, so gaining experiences and building connections at our facility is really important,” said Brandon.
This summer, Zoo Teens were able to apply for the opportunity to shadow special positions at the zoo such as the sea turtle staff and animal keepers. Brian Ogle, director of conservation learning & audience impact, has also worked with Zoo Teens to develop opportunities for them to assist in research projects.
Brian said, “The ability to engage in research is another competitive skill [Zoo Teens] can put on their resume. I look forward to continuing to grow and expand our teen program to offer even more career readiness opportunities and training experiences.”
Now our education director, Brian actually credits his experience as a teen volunteer at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium for his start in the field. “Because of the network I created through these experiences, I was able to start my professional career at that Zoo. My time as a youth volunteer also helped reinforce my passion for science, animals, and conservation.”
At 13 years old, Anna decided to become a Zoo Teen, “because it’s really fun and I want to be a zoologist when I grow up… Maybe when I get older, I might work here as a start.”
Brandon said that Zoo staff will absolutely support the Zoo Teens in whatever their future goals and ideas are during their time in the program. “So many teens that we get constantly impress us with the fact they just are so driven to learn. They want to learn, and they want to do better and we are here to facilitate that.”
Learn more about Brevard Zoo’s Zoo Teen program on our website at BrevardZoo.org/Volunteer-Programs/Zoo-Teen-Programs/