Miramonte students volunteer at the Oakland Zoo


Photo by Thomas Edwardson, Miramonte High School

Miramonte High senior Thomas Edwardson poses alongside friendly animal while volunteering at The Oakland Zoo.

Sporting a blue shirt with large letters that read “Teen Wild Guide,” Miramonte junior Charlotte Hawthorn straightens her name tag and proceeds into the Oakland Zoo, ready for her shift as a high school volunteer. As she checks in, she wonders which of the goats will attempt to make their daily escape and if today she will be stationed near the lemurs. Assigned to her task for the day, Hawthorn wears her shirt with pride, excited for the day ahead of her. 

The high school volunteers have a variety of roles and responsibilities. Some days they walk around in small groups asking visitors if they have any questions. 

“We stop at different animal exhibits, and we have facts that we would give out,” Hawthorn said. Other days, the volunteers work at specific exhibits, such as the lemurs, alligators, bats, or goats. There, they host games and activities to engage with and encourage visitors to learn more about the animals. The volunteers also have to make sure everyone respects the animals. 

“Having teen wild guides out in front of the exhibits enhances the guest experience. They are also helping out with the keepers because the keepers don’t always have time to answer all questions. They are also enforcing zoo rules,” Program Director and Teen Outreach leader Katie Garchar said. 

Miramonte seniors Thomas Edwardson and George Destino are also part of the Teen Wild Guides program, which is specifically designed for high school aged teens all around the county. The program  “I think it’s really important to have volunteers that are old enough to handle remedial tasks, like the goats and things like that. Also, it’s just important to have people to get visitors engaged in the zoo and have them not just look at the animals but learn something while they’re there,” Hawthorn said. 

The program also serves as an opportunity to be exposed to jobs at the zoo.

 “If you’re passionate about something very important and you want to learn more about it, the Oakland Zoo is definitely a place to not just teach people, but you also get to learn things yourself and gain more experiences,” Edwardson said. 

During the coronavirus, the Oakland Zoo struggled to stay open. With no visitors allowed, the zoo lost its main source of income. In addition no volunteers were allowed to come to the zoo either in order to follow COVID-19 protocols. Hundreds of helping hands were lost. “The keepers were really struggling, it was so hard not to have our volunteers help out. The keepers could really feel the difference without them. As soon as we got [volunteers] back, it was a huge deal,” Garchar said.

The high school volunteers’ dedication helps pave the way for future generations. “I think it’s important for us to leave a blueprint for other people to volunteer and be willing to take care of our planet because it’s eventually the young people who are going to be running the world,” Edwardson said. 

Hawthorn smiles as she attempts to recite all the goats’ names to a little girl. She notes a goat named Hazel, a notorious escape artist who tries to break free almost daily. Hawthorn rattles off a few facts about the goats and even describes how each goat has their own personality. Not only do moments like these solidify Hawthorn’s love for animals and teaching people about them, but it also leaves a lasting imprint on the zoo and its visitors.