Innovative youth program is working to create tomorrow's conservation leaders
Now in its 21st year, the Zoo Animal Presenter program, presented by First Tech Federal Credit Union, is older than some of its graduates. The three-year, paid internship program at the Oregon Zoo primarily serves youth of color and youth from low-income families, providing mentored work experience.
"We want to introduce young people to wildlife conservation, and First Tech's partnership is helping us provide those opportunities and experiences," said Kimm Fox-Middleton, the zoo's interim education curator. "Over the past 21 years, ZAP has grown into nationally recognized youth-development program, and that's largely thanks to generous contributions from our community."
"Paid internship opportunities can be hard to come by in any year, and this year has been more difficult than ever for youth to find and employers to provide safe, engaging and enriching programs," said Nicole Frisch, senior director of community engagement at First Tech. "We're so proud to continue our partnership with the zoo on another year of the ZAP program, supporting access to STEM-related skills, career exploration and long-term mentorship."
Since 1999, ZAP has employed 236 teens and reached more than 120,000 young people around the region.
"The ZAP program offers formative experiences for youth to connect with the natural world," said Pam McElwee, ZAP program coordinator. "And at the same time, it helps strengthen the zoo's ties to our community. It offers young people job skills and support to grow and learn while they educate others. Alumni have gone on to do some incredible things, with some pursuing careers in education, conservation and even comedy."
First-year ZAP members provide animal-based outreach programming for 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 engage in internship placements at the zoo's veterinary medical center and butterfly conservation lab.