ZAP celebrates 15 years of training teens, linking community

Now in its 15th year, the Zoo Animal Presenter program is the same age as some of its newest members. The three-year, paid internship program at the Oregon Zoo serves low-income teenagers from diverse backgrounds, providing real world work experience.

"The ZAP program offers formative experiences for diverse youth to connect with the natural world, and at the same time, it helps to strengthen the zoo's ties to our community," says Pam McElwee, ZAP Program Coordinator.

First-year members provide animal-based outreach programming for under-served children and families around the community. The following year, members work as counselors with the Urban Nature Overnight program, teaching children ages 8-11 recreation skills and basic environmental concepts while camping overnight at local natural areas. Third-year ZAP members help mentor peers entering the program and form a conservation team, performing hands-on conservation work and educating children about waste reduction.

"Without the skills I learned in ZAP, I wouldn't have accomplished all the goals I had set out for myself in high school," says ZAP member Tatiana. "The ZAP program allows teens to find themselves in a way they never thought of before."

Since 1999, ZAP has employed 171 teens, including 29 currently engaged in the program.

"Alumni have gone on to do some incredible things, with with some earning college degrees and pursuing careers in education, conservation and even comedy," McElwee says. "Many people don't realize that youth unemployment is quite high in Oregon. The ZAP program offers young people job skills and support to grow and learn while they educate others throughout the Metro region."