News Relesae
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351,
April 21, 2021                               
 Note to editor: Images of Brookfield Zoo's volunteers may be downloaded at end of this release.

Volunteer Program at Brookfield Zoo Celebrates 50th Anniversary
Chicago Zoological Society Thanks Its Volunteers for 50 Years of Time and Talent
during National Volunteer Week

 Brookfield, Ill.—This week, April 18-24, is National Volunteer Week, and the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is celebrating 50 years of its award-winning Volunteer Engagement Program by giving thanks to the nearly 900 individuals who donate their time, talent and love of animals to furthering the Society’s mission to inspire conservation leadership.

Founded in 1971 through the efforts of Edie Duckworth, who is a current CZS life trustee, and Charlene Carper, the Volunteer Engagement Program, formerly known as the Volunteer League, initially began with just 21 members.
"Our first plans for a volunteer organization at Brookfield Zoo were modest. We planned to assist with office work, primarily mailings, and to open the Elephant’s Trunk, a volunteer-run gift shop. As other needs and opportunities were identified, we added members and expanded our responsibilities,” said Edie Duckworth. “Today that is referred to as organic growth, but at that time we just knew that we loved the zoo and wanted to be a part of it, helping in any way that we could. In 1971, I did not have a vision of what has become a group of nearly 900 volunteers; nor did I think ahead to consider that someday we would be celebrating a 50th anniversary. But, here we are and I am very proud of what Brookfield Zoo volunteers have already accomplished and what they will continue to do in the future."
 Today, volunteers at the 216-acre zoo serve as docents by engaging and educating guests about the animals, greet and guide guests throughout the park; and provide support during the many special events held throughout the year. During the pandemic in 2020, CZS’s adult volunteers, teen volunteers in the King Conservation Science Scholars program, and corporate volunteers contributed nearly 33,000 service hours primarily through virtual assignments.
“The depth and breadth of passion our volunteers have for Brookfield Zoo and its mission is incredibly inspiring,” said Regi Mezydlo, director of volunteer engagement for the Chicago Zoological Society. “Their commitment to celebrating animals, wildlife, and nature is demonstrated daily by their exceptional interactions with our guests. We truly treasure our volunteers beyond measure.”
The adult volunteer cohort is made up of people from all walks of life; the oldest being 101 years old and the youngest volunteer being 22 years old. The longest-serving volunteer, Jeroma Zahour, has been donating her clerical talents in Brookfield Zoo’s Membership Department for 47 years, and there are 51 volunteers who have served for more than 25 years. Regardless of age or amount of time in the program, the deep dedication to conservation and animals expressed by all Brookfield Zoo volunteers is unmatched.
“It’s my happy place,” Anna Grob, a volunteer docent, said of her time at Brookfield Zoo. “Getting into the volunteer program was the best choice of my life, I want to get people excited to learn about animals.”
Over the last half-century, the Brookfield Zoo Volunteer Engagement Program has grown in size and in recognition, standing out in the field as a leader. In both 2001 and 2010, participants in the program hosted the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents and Volunteers national conference, and in 2015, the program was presented the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Volunteer Engagement Award for remarkable achievement in volunteer program development and engaging volunteers in the overall mission and operation of the organization.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed the zoo in March 2020, that didn’t stop Brookfield Zoo volunteers. Twenty volunteers with sewing machines made more than 700 cloth face coverings for the animal programs staff to wear while onsite caring for the animals. Their work was highlighted by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker during his May 2, 2020 press conference as a noteworthy example of volunteers serving their communities.
In acknowledgment of the many contributions volunteers make to Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Zoological Society will formally recognize and celebrate them this fall during its annual volunteer awards ceremony.

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Photo Captions (credit CZS-Brookfield Zoo)
a: Edie Duckworth (right), one of the founders of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Volunteer Engagement Program and a lifetime trustee, is pictured with Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, and Betsy Snyder, a volunteer receiving recognition for 35 years of service.
b: A guest guide at Brookfield Zoo greets visitors and helps with wayfinding.
c: In 2020, Teri Marsh-Souders was one of 20 Brookfield Zoo volunteers who made face coverings for the animal care staff during the pandemic. She has volunteered at Brookfield Zoo for 35 years.
d: In 2020, Bill Prescott helped make face coverings for the animal care staff at Brookfield Zoo.
e: A Brookfield Zoo volunteer engages children at an outreach event held at a local library.
f, g, and h: Brookfield Zoo’s docents use a variety of artifacts to share their knowledge of animal facts with guests.
i and j: Teens of the Chicago Zoological Society’s King Conservation Science Scholars make learning about animals a fun experience for young guests at Brookfield Zoo.
k: Teens of the Chicago Zoological Society’s King Conservation Science Scholars program help enclose a garden at one an outreach site in Chicago.
l: A volunteer at Brookfield Zoo helps guests find their way to an animal exhibit.
m: Bob Aitchison, a 40-year volunteer at Brookfield Zoo was recognized for his service during a virtual ceremony in November 2020.
n: A volunteer at Brookfield Zoo helps youngsters plan a garden at the Hamill Family Play Zoo.
o: Brookfield Zoo volunteers interact with guests during special events, including the zoo’s Party for the Planet.
p: A group of Brookfield Zoo’s volunteers. Many of them become good friends over the years.
q: Volunteers recognized for their service to Brookfield Zoo during the annual dinner in 2016.

About the Chicago Zoological Society
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. The zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, and CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit


Sondra Katzen
Media Relations Manager
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071


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