News Release
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351, 
April 22, 2024

Note: Scroll to end of press release to download photos.

Volunteer Engagement at Brookfield Zoo Chicago Recognized
during Volunteer Appreciation Week


Chicago, Ill. —This Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 21-27, Brookfield Zoo Chicago celebrates 53 years of its award-winning Volunteer Engagement Program, and is giving special thanks to the nearly 300 individuals who donate their time, talent, and love of animals and nature to furthering the Zoo’s mission to inspire conservation leadership.

The Zoo’s Volunteer Engagement Program was founded in 1971, and today, volunteers at the 235-acre park serve in a number of capacities. Throughout the Zoo, volunteer educators or docents engage and share their knowledge about the animals to zoogoers, and at Hamill Family Play Zoo, early childhood docents help facilitate nature play with youngsters. Guest guides staff information kiosks answering general questions about the Zoo and assist in wayfinding. Volunteers also assist at many of the Zoo’s special events, including Boo! at the Zoo, Holiday Magic, and Zoo Run. Others are engaged in a variety of tasks such as testing and sorting lights used during Holiday Magic, cataloging the Zoo’s archival collection, preparing mailings for the Membership Department, conducting inventories of supplies, and creating crafts.

In 2023, volunteers contributed 32,300 service hours to Brookfield Zoo Chicago, valued at nearly $1.1 million dollars according to The Independent Sector standards.    

“The depth and breadth of passion our volunteers have for Brookfield Zoo Chicago and its mission is incredibly inspiring,” said Regi Mezydlo, director of volunteer engagement for the Zoo. “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 volunteer cohort is made up of people from all walks of life, including the eldest active volunteer 98-year old docent Frank Veselak. The longest-serving volunteer, Joan Canchola, has been donating her time in the Zoo’s Membership Department for 48 years, and there are 53 volunteers who have actively served for more than 25 years. Regardless of age or amount of time as a volunteer, the deep dedication to conservation and animals expressed by all of Brookfield Zoo Chicago volunteers is unmatched.
“It’s my happy place,” Anna Grob, a volunteer docent, said of her time at the Zoo. “Getting involved in the volunteer program was the best choice of my life; I want to get people excited to learn about animals.” Grob has authored nine children’s books based on her experience as a docent at Brookfield Zoo Chicago, including five in her Wild Animal Survival Series.

Over the last half century, Brookfield Zoo Chicago’s Volunteer Engagement Program has earned a respected position in the zoo and aquarium field as a thought leader in volunteer engagement. In both 2001 and 2010, volunteers hosted the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents and Volunteers (AZADV) national conference, and in 2015, the program was presented the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Volunteer Engagement Award for remarkable achievement in volunteer program development and engaging volunteers in the overall mission and operation of the organization.

In acknowledgement of the many contributions volunteers make to the organization, Brookfield Zoo Chicago volunteers will be formally celebrated this fall at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Awards Ceremony.

Also this fall, the Zoo will begin recruiting for additional volunteers. If you enjoy being around people and care about animals and the environment, visit this summer to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Zoo.

Also contributing service to the volunteer engagement initiatives are companies that also share the Zoo’s core values of conserving and protecting our planet and the creatures that live on it. They provide corporate volunteers for a variety of projects and special events throughout the year. For more information on engaging with Brookfield Zoo Chicago as a Corporate Partner, visit

National Volunteer Week was founded in 1974 and is celebrated the third week in April to acknowledge, say “thank you,” and spotlight those individuals who are making a difference in their communities through volunteering.

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Photo Captions (credit: Brookfield Zoo Chicago)
5810: An early childhood docent at Brookfield Zoo Chicago engages a young guest in getting an up-close look at a turtle in Hamill Family Play Zoo.

OA5A6546: Volunteers assist in several of Brookfield Zoo Chicago’s special events, including its Earth Day Run.

5702: Brookfield Zoo Chicago’s guest guides assist zoogoers in wayfinding.

5740 and 5761: A docent interacts with guests at Brookfield Zoo’s Living Coast habitat.


About Brookfield Zoo Chicago
Celebrating 90 years as a global leader in animal well-being and conservation, Brookfield Zoo Chicago inspires conservation leadership by igniting emotional connections for people with wildlife and nature, locally and globally. The Zoo is a private nonprofit organization that operates on 235 acres of land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County and is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 species, including many of Earth’s most endangered. Brookfield Zoo Chicago was the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and ArbNet. For more information, visit