Q&A with Sierra

Sierra Horsey is the Volunteer Program Coordinator at Reid Park Zoo. She helps manage the Zoo Crew, a group of teen volunteers who educate the public on resident animals and more! The Zoo Crew was named the Youth Volunteer Program of the Year for 2020 by SAVMA.

Reid Park’s Zoo Crew

Zoo Crew accepts their award for Youth Volunteer Program of the Year

The Zoo Crew accepts their Youth Volunteer Program of the Year Award at the 2020 SAVMA Awards Volunteer Appreciation breakfast.

A group of teens pose for a photo with matching t-shirts.

The Zoo Crew youth volunteers.

How did you get started in this field?

I fell into volunteer management by accident. I had previous experience as an informal educator and was applying for jobs my senior year of college when my plans for graduate school did not work out. I saw a position as a volunteer coordinator at a zoo and while I didn’t think I was qualified I applied anyway. To my surprise I got the job! I moved from Mississippi to Oregon and have been in the volunteer management/education field ever since.

What is one technique or strategy that you have learned in working with volunteers that has helped in your career?

Ask for feedback. I ask for feedback constantly from my coworkers, supervisor, and even from the volunteers I coordinate. I was hired to increase the effectiveness of the volunteer programs and to help my supervisor, and I can’t do that without feedback from those around me.

What is something that you learned that has been really helpful in your career?

How to keep motivated. When I was an informal educator, it was really easy to fall into the trap of repeating the same conversations over and over, which made my job really monotonous and boring. Luckily, my coworkers inspired me to keep learning about the animals at the Zoo, which reignited my passion. With all the new facts I was learning, I was eager to share them with guests, which brought joy back into my conversations. I use that technique as a volunteer coordinator by continuing to learn.

What part of your job do you really excel in? What are you good at? How do you know?

I am good at creating informative training sessions for volunteers and staff to attend. About once every other month, I host a training on a species living at Reid Park Zoo. The training covers both specific information about the animal living in our care as well as general species information. The volunteers always approach me afterwards thanking me for a great presentation. I can gauge how informative my presentation was by the volume of notes the volunteers take. It’s nice to know that I am presenting them with lots of new information to share with guests.

Who have been your mentors in this field?

This question is really hard because every job I have held, I have had really great bosses from whom I have been fortunate to learn many valuable skills. Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller from Tuskegee University started me on this career path, providing me with opportunities in college. From there I have had great leaders in every job and internship I worked at including Mississippi State University and the Wildlife Services station on campus, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Oregon Zoo. I would also count my current supervisor, Carrie, as a great mentor.


What do you wish you had known when you started your career?

I didn’t plan on going into volunteer management, so I wish I had taken a few leadership or management courses in college. While I am able to learn management strategies on the job, having additional knowledge would make me more confident in my leadership skills.

How do you define a volunteer manager?

My goal is to ensure that each volunteer achieves their goal or goals within the volunteer program. So I guess I would define it as someone who helps people meet their goals but also pushes volunteers to strive for excellence.

What are some “other duties as assigned” that came with your position?

I manage the Zoo’s Enrichment Tree Program, which requires several months of planning and is available during the month of December for guests to support and feel a part of the animals’ lives by donating enrichment items to the Zoo. I also help fill in for education/keeper chats and attend meetings so I can distribute notes to the office.

Describe a memorable moment with volunteers.

Recently the Zoo Crew teen program won the Youth Volunteer Program of the Year award from SAVMA which was an amazing honor. It was great seeing the teen volunteers acknowledged for all of their hard work.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other volunteer coordinators/professionals?

It is so important to build and surround yourself with a network of trusted colleageues. Being able to connect with professionals and ask for help, guidance, advice, and suggestions is priceless. It’s also great because your core group knows exactly what you’re going through and can offer comfort and words of wisdom when things seem overwhelming.

How have you adapted to a virtual environment?

My supervisor and I host daily, online meetings for Zoo Docents, and I host teen meetings weekly to make sure the volunteers are up to date on what is happening with the Zoo. We also offer fun online activities like trivia nights to encourage bonding in a time where many feel isolated. Personally I have adapted well to the virtual environment. To keep myself motivated, I give myself deadlines and made sure to set up a dedicated, work space at my home so I stay focused.

How do you recharge or practice self-care after a long day of work?

After the average work day, I watch a lot of Great British Baking Show reruns. I also enjoy baking, so on days when I have time, I blast musicals and bake, which usually takes anywhere from 6-12 hours. Giving myself something else to focus on helps me turn off my work brain. I also make sure I’m technologically disconnected (don’t sync my work chat to my personal phone) outside work hours to give myself a complete break from thinking about work.