ZooYouth program provides opportunity to volunteer with animals
An inquiry about a school holiday program for Zoo Members at Adelaide Zoo resulted in Isaac Smith joining ZooYouth, a program for up to 60 youth volunteers who work one Saturday a month at the zoo.
As a member of the ZooYouth program, Isaac is involved in a wide range of activities including preparing enclosures for the animals to return to after hours, food preparation, learning about conservation and the environment, and even shovelling poo. However, according to his mother Sue, it is the hands-on tasks that really capture his interest, particularly those that directly involve animals.
“Being part of ZooYouth has exposed Isaac to so many aspects of life at the zoo. Aside from the physical tasks which he enjoys, he has had some other very special experiences. He has hand fed a giant tortoise and giraffe, and has been standing in an open plain with bison very close by. Isaac has even witnessed a procedure on a yellow footed rock wallaby and the treatment of other animals who have been rescued following bush fires in South Australia”, said Sue.
Isaac is 16 years old and was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome when he was two. He has always had a strong connection with animals and shows great care and empathy for them.
Although Isaac has always enjoyed visiting Adelaide Zoo, and has a natural attraction to animals, his mother felt that he would not be able to participate in the program without additional support, particularly as ZooYouth is run by volunteers who don’t have training in working with people with disabilities.
Isaac and zoo volunteer with turtle
However, coincidentally, the Zoo Volunteer Program Officer, who is employed by the zoo to run the ZooYouth program, does have a background in disability and was very supportive of Isaac joining the program with support from his mother.
“After several conversations with the Program Officer, they agreed for me to support Isaac and attend the ZooYouth sessions with him which is wonderful because as far as I know, there has not been a supported member in the program before.
“The volunteers who run the program seek guidance from me on how best to engage Isaac and on which activities are likely to suit him the best. Although they give him more flexibility than they give some of the other members of the program, they are accepting of his challenges, encouraging of his efforts and rewarding of his successes”, Sue explained.
According to his mother, there are so many benefits to Isaac being a part of the ZooYouth program such as working as a team to achieve a common goal, social interaction with a wide range of adults and socialising with a new and different peer group, not to mention the skills he is learning from being in a hands-on environment.
“But what I am most proud of is that on most occasions, Isaac has risen to accept the numerous challenges that have confronted him while participating in this program.
“I have always worked on the theory that I never want to look back and wish that Isaac had been more involved in different activities. What I’ve learnt is that it is easier to lower the bar than it is to raise it. Give your children opportunities to meet their potential, they may just surprise you, just as Isaac keeps on doing”, says Sue proudly.
Unfortunately the ZooYouth program is not continuing in its current form and will no longer be able to accommodate Isaac’s needs. However, Sue is currently negotiating an alternative way for Isaac to remain involved with the zoo as a volunteer so that he can further develop his skills and continue to expand his knowledge.
Congratulations to Isaac on his Fragile X Achievement Award 2015!