ZooAide program gives teens a chance to engage with guests

This monthly feature focuses on volunteer opportunities for Central Ohio families.

Many Central Ohioans have fond memories of visits to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

But did you know that local teenagers can help create happy memories for other families by volunteering at the zoo?

Mary Holben, volunteer assistant in the zoo's Conservation Education and Engagement Department, said teens can participate in the seasonal “de-lighting” to take down Wildlights holiday decorations as well as the popular ZooAide program.

ZooAide, open to students entering grades 8-12, focuses on guest engagement. Participants might greet visitors at the Kangaroo Walkabout, Touch Pool or aviaries, offering information about the exhibits and animals that inhabit them. They might also help prepare frozen leaves for animals' winter diets or work with summer camps and preschool programs, Holben said. Experienced volunteers can move through tracks focused on employment, conservation or keepers. “This season, we have just over 300 teens in our program,” Holben said.

Potential ZooAide volunteers must fill out an online application, which is posted in December. Zoo staffers interview top candidates, about 100 of whom are chosen to join returning volunteers. “We get a lot of interest, which is really great, but at the same time we just don't have space to take everybody,” Holben said.

Volunteers must commit to 60 hours of service during the summer season. Teens who fulfill that requirement can help with fall events such as Boo at the Zoo, Holben said.

Visitors benefit from the ZooAides' passion and excitement, Holben said. “It makes our guests' experience so much more positive.”

For more information, go to columbuszoo.org.