AmeriCorps - Behind the Scenes

By Christina Vuong, AmeriCorps Volunteer

An AmeriCorps NCCC Team's Perspective

How many of us can say that we have fed red pandas grapes? Or got "kissed" by a giraffe? Or been in an exhibit with lemur tails dangling in our faces? For two wonderfully exhausting weeks in January 2010, a team of ten AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) members have shadowed zookeepers and maintenance staff in various animal care and groundskeeping areas. We performed tasks ranging from preparing animal diets, hosing down animal dens, pulling out cattails around Lake Victoria, laying down sod in a new tortoise exhibit, moving dirt into the chimpanzee exhibit, raking, and planting trees.

Sure, the work was not always glamorous, but it afforded us an intimate look at zoo operations that few get to experience. We had fun commiserating over the worst animal poop to scoop (FYI it was a tie between the giraffe's and snow leopard's) and the grossest duty (scooping up dead crickets). Being able to offset some of the tedious cleaning labor zookeepers had to do daily allowed them extra time to focus on animal enrichment and training. For example, with the extra manpower in accomplishing routine tasks, hoofstock keepers were able to work on coaxing a shy giraffe to the viewing platform to prepare her for upcoming feedings from the public.

Working at the Sacramento Zoo posed challenges to each of us not only physically, but mentally. One Corps Member who shall remain unnamed, was deathly afraid of snakes, even as they were safely in their cages. For him, working in Reptiles forced him to confront his fears, even if it was only for a few seconds at a time as he was cleaning the glass windows.

We quickly came to the conclusion that zookeepers have the strongest (or the worst, as one zookeeper quipped) backs of any profession, from all the time they spend bent over and shoveling. We were impressed by the labor of love which they carry out, 365 days a year.

For one Corps Member in particular, Finley Janes, her time at the Zoo solidified her interest in pursuing animal science as a course of study in college. She rattles off the different animals she learned about each day. "I love the zoo so much!" Finley's infectious enthusiasm carries over us all.

We were privileged to be working alongside staff so dedicated to the comfort and well-being of the animals and zoo visitors, and who were so willing to share their knowledge and humor with us. It was an adventure through and through. Although our team was assigned to the Sacramento Zoo for only two weeks, we certainly look forward to coming back and volunteering when our team is stationed in the Sacramento area. And we certainly will be there to see the new anteater baby come springtime!

Thanks for a wonderful time!

AmeriCorps NCCC is part of AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs created to improve the environment, enhance education, increase public safety, and assist with disaster relief and other unmet human needs. The Pacific Region campus, located in Sacramento, Calif., serves Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the Pacific territories. The Sacramento campus is one of five campuses in the United States; the others are located in Denver, Colo., Perry Point, Md., Vicksburg, Miss., and Vinton, Iowa.

NCCC members must be 18-24 years old and must complete at least 1,700 hours of community service during the 10-month program. In exchange for their service, they receive $5,350 to help pay for college or to pay student loans. AmeriCorps is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. For information about applying to an AmeriCorps program, call 1-800-942-2677 (1-800-94-ACORP) or visit the website at

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