AmeriCorps is a national service program that provides individuals with opportunities to give back to communities at over 36,000 locations across the country. In Ohio alone, there are over 1,000 AmeriCorps members serving, helping to address community needs in the area surrounding their service site.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden hosts its very own AmeriCorps team! Part of the Zoo’s mission includes conveying knowledge, conserving nature, and serving the community and the AmeriCorps program both aligns with and helps advance those important aims through education, research, environmental stewardship, and fostering community engagement through service.
Everyday service can look like a lot of things depending on what area of the zoo a member is working with and what the position entails. Important aspects of service at the Zoo include:
- Education: Many AmeriCorps members help bring nature-oriented STEM education to students in the community as well as to the public that visit the Zoo. Members craft curricula, plan for and lead programs, and work with animal ambassadors all to help convey knowledge and inspire connections with nature and wildlife. Some also lead sustainability tours and help educate on important conservation initiatives and actions.
- Research: As part of measuring impact, all members collect data and report on their time with the program. But we also have members who focus on collecting data on plants and animals and that engage in research that supports the health and conservation of wildlife.
- Environmental Stewardship: In addition to research, this could look like leading zero-waste events at the Zoo, facilitating a “Pop-up Thrift Shop” to help fight fast fashion, participating in the removal of invasive plant species, and/or actively planting and increasing tree coverage and pollinator habitats in urbanized spaces.
- Community Engagement: Another important element to service, community engagement may mean working with or mentoring some of the hundreds of volunteers that contribute to the Zoos efforts, writing blog articles or other social media posts to promote educational programs and conservation initiatives, as well as outreach and collaboration with individuals, families, schools, and organizations in Cincinnati.
All Together Now:
Just as AmeriCorps members maintain day-to-day tasks and individual responsibilities, we also come together as a team for group service as well as for growth and learning.
For instance, over the course of the current service year, AmeriCorps members participated in service collaborations with the local non-profit organizations Mill Creek Alliance and Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub, supported an event for America Recycles Day, and collectively planned an Earth Day event that encouraged environmental appreciation, awareness, and action.
Moreover, while AmeriCorps is about service and community engagement, it also provides growth and further learning opportunities to members. Each month, the whole AmeriCorps crew gets together for In-Service days. These days are a mixture of professional development and team bonding that feature Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion (DEAI) based trainings, skill-building, career chats with full-time staff, and perhaps the occasional behind-the-scenes animal experience as well.
AmeriCorps terms at the Zoo last eleven months, so that time here does eventually come to a close. However, the Zoo staff connected to the AmeriCorps program help us prepare for the exit and figure out next steps.
Next steps can look like any number of things. Once members complete their AmeriCorps term, we receive a Segal education award – over $6,000 – that can be used to pay for further schooling or to pay towards past student loans. With that, some members choose to go back to school. Others do another year of service, either again with the Zoo’s program, or with any of the many sites across the country. And other members take all the experience they’ve gained and find full time careers. Some past AmeriCorps members have even come back to work full time in the Zoo!
All in all, the AmeriCorps program at the Zoo is an incredible experience full of service and growth. And perhaps one of the most impactful aspects of it is the community you build – with other members, with staff at the Zoo, and with people in the surrounding Cincinnati area.