A program at the Phoenix Zoo is helping to keep children interested and involved in nature and animals. Every year, Zoo Teens welcomes a group of 14-17 year old volunteers who learn from animal keepers and give back by interacting with zoo guests.
Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Giving and Leading" takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Phoenix Zoo. That's where producer Christina Estes and photographer Steve Aron learned about a program that pairs teenagers with animals.
Anila Tynan: I really love the zoo. I have been here since I was little. And I love coming and seeing all the animals.
Christina Estes: These days, Anila Tynan does a lot more than just see the animals.
Anila Tynan: So what we do in the morning is we might come in and you are going to get all the poop out of the shaving and out of the stalls.
Christina Estes: Anila is among more than 100 teens who volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo.
Anila Tynan: It's really great to be able to come on the weekends to leave behind school and the house and get here and just have fun with friends.
Robin Wilson: I view the teen program as a bridging program where they can bridge through their teen years into adult life.
Christina Estes: Robin Wilson runs the program.
Robin Wilson: You guys have any thoughts on that table and how we can make it better.
Christina Estes: Each volunteer begins as either a trail teen where they share information with guests --
Student: Yeah, they can run fast. Our goats are kind of lazy.
Christina Estes: Or they can start as a farm teen which involves a lot of cleaning. As a second year volunteer, Anila was able to become an equine teen.
Anila Tynan: I have a passion for horses. I really like working with them, with being around them. Also it's a great stepping stone to get to even higher levels of the teen program like animal care center which is where you get to work alongside -- hi, pretty girl -- along sides the veterinarians.
Christina Estes: Instead Christian Topete picks up a lot of worms. He volunteers in the kitchen where they scoop more than 44,000 meal worms every month.
Christian Topete: Our bird gets two cups of worms. That's the biggest amount we distribute.
Christina Estes: As a member of the team, Christian helps prepare 500 diets for 1400 animals.
Christian Topete: This is my third year, I was able to apply for this and I did the interview and it scared me. I was freaking out the whole time. But I finally made it. I got the call and they told me that, you know, they were going to accept me into the program and I felt like I won the lottery, honestly.
Christina Estes: But this lottery winner still had to prove himself by taking a test on nutrition, personal hygiene and food safety.
Christian Topete: So once I passed that, they asked me, you know, what's your experience? And at the time I had no experience with knives at all.
Christina Estes: Look at him now. Besides mastering knives, brooms and rakes, zoo teens are exposed to network, meetings and even hiring decisions.
Anila Tynan: I ran an interview alongside my supervisor and I got to see what it's like on the other side of the table.
Robin Wilson: That's another huge key element to the zoo teen program as I encourage the kids to develop relationships not just with myself but the other staff members here at the Phoenix Zoo. So they can get those letters of recommendation or reference that they can have doors open for them.
Christina Estes: A whole world has opened for Christian since he took the first step as a 14-year-old trail teen.
Christian Topete: It helped me grow as a person because I was really shy talking to people and I was not a good public speaker whatsoever. Just by getting the words out was really hard for me. Now I feel comfortable talking to any guest that comes up to me and that's helped me.
Christina Estes: Not every teen will spend their lives working at a zoo. But everyone will remember their time as a zoo teen.
Ted Simons: The program is open to students 14 to 17 years of age. Applications are accepted from March through May. You can find more information at PhoenixZoo.org.
Wednesday education advocates will tell us what they want to see from the Legislative session and find out how to be certified as a highlands naturalist. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by the contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.