The following post is written by Sierra Horsey, a SAVMA Member and new member of the SAVMA Communications Committee. Sierra is the Volunteer Program Coordinator at Reid Park Zoo.
Random Act of Kindness Week
It’s no secret that 2020 was a year filled with unprecedented events and challenges. These challenges caused feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and loneliness. As a volunteer manager, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness when it comes to managing volunteers during a time of crisis. Many facilities have stopped volunteer activities all together or are only offering extremely limited opportunities.
The pandemic necessitated a near six month closure of Reid Park Zoo. All non-essential staff worked from home and volunteer programs were suspended. When the Zoo reopened, volunteer opportunities were greatly reduced to limit the number of people in the Zoo. In 2021 (seven months after the Zoo reopened), about one third of Zoo volunteers have been able to return, which leaves two thirds of the Zoo’s volunteer force that doesn’t yet have an opportunity or doesn’t feel safe coming back.
Many people volunteer at the Zoo because they are passionate about animals and conservation. They also volunteer to be part of a community. With the majority of people staying home due to the pandemic, volunteers often have a sense of isolation from the community. As a volunteer manager, it’s heartbreaking to know that volunteers desperately want to return yet we cannot offer opportunities. We at the Reid Park Zoo, created online engagement opportunities for volunteers to keep them connected.
How We Responded
We have found kindness and connection in our everyday interactions with the volunteers. We host regular volunteer meetings for the volunteers. While these meetings have a purpose of sharing information about what is happening at the Zoo, there is always time for volunteers to socialize with one another. Additionally, we’ve facilitated virtual hangouts that focus on fun — trivia nights, karaoke, and cookie decorating classes. These hangouts were greatly appreciated, and they offered an hour or two of bonding with friends. To ensure volunteers knew we were thinking of them, even when we weren’t able to be together, we sent handwritten appreciation and holiday cards to every volunteer.
Our efforts were reciprocated by the volunteers. They did constant check-ins to find out how staff were doing and asked for ways they could help. They even sponsored multiple snack and lunch days to keep staff spirits high.
RAK Week and SAVMA
It’s easy to fall into the trap that all acts have to be grand in order to be appreciated. When in truth, the simple gestures matter just as much. Be sure to follow our Facebook page where we will promote ways to show kindness this week.
Also – Join SAVMA this Thursday for a Volunteer Appreciation Roundtable discussion to share ideas with other volunteer management professionals on how to celebrate volunteers. Check it out here: https://www.savma.org/programs-and-events/events/#!event/2021/2/18/roundtable-discussion-on-volunteer-recognition-and-volunteer-appreciation-week