Engaging Volunteers in Marine Education with Raelene Child

Raelene Child

Manager of Youth Volunteers & Internships

Aquarium of the Pacific
Long Beach, Ca

I have been working as an informal science educator in various roles at the Aquarium of the Pacific for the last 13 years. For the last 7 years I have specifically worked with the Aquarium’s youth volunteers. When I took on the role of volunteer coordinator, I was responsible for overseeing and coordinating our youth volunteer program, we call “VolunTEENs,” which serves 14-16 year olds.

Aquarium volunteers working in the local community in the rainforests of Ecuador

However, I soon realized that there is a need for additional volunteer opportunities for students who have gone through our program. As they get older their needs change, their skills change, and what they want out of a volunteer experience can sometimes change. In addition, once they volunteer at the Aquarium, they don’t want to leave, and we don’t want to let them go either! I became determined to create additional volunteer programs that would allow them to start in middle school and continue all the way up into college. Since then I have been fortunate to have the support to create additional opportunities. One of these opportunities allows students to travel and volunteer abroad. At the Aquarium and during their travel, volunteers spend time learning research methods, ecological concepts, and the effects of human impacts first hand. This summer we will be heading to Belize to help with local research of marine life and its ecosystems.

"Big Fish" working with their "Littles"

Another opportunity, and one of our newest volunteer offerings, is our middle school volunteer program, which serves two functions. We allow middle school students to volunteer without their parent present in our Junior Exhibit Guide program, while working alongside one of our more “experienced” high school volunteer, our Teen Exhibit Leaders. We have nicknamed this program the “Big Fish, Little Fish” program. Our Big Fish are there to provide the Little Fish with tips on interacting with guests, encouraging them, and providing them with feedback. In return our Big Fish receive additional training each week where they learn valuable leadership and workplace skills. We are in our second year of this program and it has grown to be one of our most popular youth volunteer programs we offer.

Aquarium volunteers prepping for a DIY zero-waste workshop

Even more recently, many of my student volunteers expressed their desire to take action within their community, and in their words, “Really DO SOMETHING to take action against climate change!” After meeting with them and brainstorming they came up with pretty brilliant idea: Their solution was to create “Do it Yourself” zero-waste workshops that would teach participants to create more sustainable alternatives to common household items. Their hope is that these small steps can inspire larger lifestyle changes towards an environmentally conscious decision making. This group also thought it was important to target renters, as they felt like the renter community is often limited to making changes to the homes in which they live. In July, I will be presenting the details of this project and its success at the NMEA Annual Conference! Hope to see you there!

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