A Volunteer Fish Out Of Water
Henry Doorly Zoo Omaha, NE
Introduction Video-5 minutes
Introduce myself and discuss diving background from Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha.
The aquarium was first built in 1983 and greatly expanded in 1995. Show slides from some of the current exhibits.
In 1995, Henry Doorly Zoo started its volunteer program. We started with over 125 interested people. This was surprising and scary, so they thinned out the group with several meetings to try to find out who the serious people we’re.
The Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium set up some guidelines as necessary to dive at the Zoo:
18 years of age
Interview to determine personality and thoughts on conservation and the zoo.
Most divers now need to be referred because they feel a recommendation from a current diver counts as one more step to quality the diver.
Once the diver is agreed upon, he/she starts out as an understudy. He/she observes, starts with small tanks and works toward the more difficult tanks (because of current, lack of equipment such as fins and BCD).
The Henry Doorly Zoo expects the volunteer to work a minimum of 75 hours a year. There have been from 0 to 300 hours volunteered by some divers.
It is also a plus if the diver is knowledgeable about the tanks in the aquarium so he/she can lead group tours, explain the fish and the native environment these critters live in. ‘
We also clean as in mopping, dusting, scraping, and even plumbing. We baby-sit new animals that come into the zoo or help transport and move the animals. We also feed a lot.
One nice thing is that if someone doesn’t have the knowledge, the employees are glad to provide materials so we can learn what we need to know.
Here are some examples of activities the volunteers have been able to help with. Some of these are from the zoo’s library, but it does show that we are included in some pretty fun or interesting activities I will come back to this topic later.
Henry Doorly Zoo does treat the volunteers well. They provide monthly meetings where we can discuss old or new business. They provide CPR training. We get frequent tours of other complexes at the zoo. We receive free zoo memberships, as long as we spend 75 hours at the zoo. Once in a while we get admission to the IMAX. Zoo uniforms are provided at cost. There are several dinners or get-togethers for the volunteers.
There are special projects the divers get to work on annually. Two days a year we help out on Members’ Day, when all zoo members’ are invited to the zoo and receive behind the scene tours. Obviously, we are at the aquarium to help answer members’ questions.
We also help out at the Lied Jungle by diving the aquatic displays – mainly to help clean, but anything is possible.
Another project of ours is helping support a school in Omaha that is considered to be underprivileged. We collect change all year long. I am proud to say that the aquarium collected the most contributions last year out of all the areas in the zoo. Another positive happening was that the Henry Doorly Zoo’s volunteers were able to participate in the Regional Aquarium Wild Life Conference we hosted two years ago. It was a great experience, and we met some nice people and learned a lot. I have even been able to travel to other aquariums and have complementary tickets, due to the fact we volunteer at the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium in Omaha.
I know that since I have been volunteering at the Henry Doorly Zoo, I have built some good relationships with the employees and other volunteers. Some of the employees have even traveled with us on our dive trips. Some have trained with us, and some socialize with us. As a matter of fact, we just got back from a trip to Cozumel the end of July and several of the Aquarists went with us.
I would also like to tell you a little bit about how some of the volunteers feel about the chance to come down here and dive. Some people use it as therapy; others feel it’s like going on a salt-water vacation while staying home with no chance of revenge.
Insert actual statements from volunteers:
The main problem with our program is that sometimes it’s hard to fill the needed dive slots during the week. Obviously, most people, work during the week, so we try to work with that.
Now there are two programs I would like to tell you about.
The first is what we call our “Talk to the Diver” program. During the off-season, we schedule this once during the week and twice on the weekends. During the busy time (summer) we only have it during the week. The weekend just gets too busy.
This program has a diver enter our large tank with a Voice-Corn mask, and there is someone in the tunnel with the microphone. We then spend half an hour letting the public ask the diver questions about the fish, aquarium or zoo. Most of the time it’s quite fun, but every once in a while we have a lull in the action. When that happens, we have some standard questions to get it going again.
Another program we offer is a camp-out program where established groups of children can have camp-outs in some of the buildings at the zoo, including the aquarium. You can image that the tunnel and the window in front of the big tank are the most popular spots.
One of our most unique and fun programs is what we call “Santa Takes a Dive.” It’s pretty simple. We have had some costumes made to represent the Santa character, then Santa, some elves, and some reindeer take a dive! We again use the Voice-Corn mask and we have some fun. It’s usually covered by the television stations around town. We’re even looking at the idea of making more costumes to cover some of the other holidays.
That is a brief look at our program. I have heard from people around the country that volunteers aren’t a big part of some zoos’ programs, but I feel quite lucky that Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is very dependent on volunteers. To put our value in numbers, here are a few totals:
Horticulture = 6,330
Aquarium = 4,321
Zoo total =34,796 hours, which equals at only minimum wage $179,199.
So have fun and do a Good Job!