“The zoo is like my Cheers, I walk in and everyone knows my name, smiles and says thank you,” this is how Carol Knee describes her volunteer shifts. Nominated by Tracy Benham of The Beardsley Zoo, we are thrilled to honor Carol as our October 2018 Volunteer of the Month and share her story.
A Registered Nurse for 49 years, Carol retired in 2015 and was looking for something to do with her free time. As a member of the zoo, she visited every Sunday morning to walk and take in the scenery; she calls it her quiet place. A patient of hers recommended that she volunteer there since she loved it so much.
She began in the Research Station, sitting and talking with people about the animals and the zoo, but she quickly found she needed something more physical; she had far too much energy to just sit and talk. An avid gardener, she decided to take her passion and skills to the greenhouse. She started slow, “it’s like going into someone else’s house, you have to start slow before you suggest changes,” Carol shared. She learned the routines from Jon, who manages the greenhouse. He taught her what needed to be done and she began to develop her routine. It was important to her that she keeps things looking nice in the front garden, she felt it was a reflection on her like it was her own home.
When she started in the greenhouse there were only one or two other gardeners. Tracy suggested that Carol take docent classes and learn how to conduct orientations so she could orient other gardeners. Carol proudly shared that they are now up to 8 volunteer gardeners and she said she couldn’t have picked a better group of people to come and work with. In addition to their love of gardening and the zoo, they share the same sense of humor and goals.
A typically week usually means that Carol volunteers for 12 hours, working Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 9am-1pm. Each week is little different; she has to move things around to see how they will bloom. She loves watching the plants grow and seeing them thrive and she shared that the Camellia plant is her favorite. She is also a member of the Volunteer Council, has taught docent classes on gardening and has served as a new volunteer mentor.
A Stratford resident for over 30 years, Carol’s volunteer projects started long before the zoo. She was a Registered Nurse at Bridgeport Hospital in the rehab unit for 27 years. During this time she helped to run a support group for patients who suffered strokes, she was involved with the group for 17 years. She inspires others to get involved in their communities as well. Her sister recently moved to Connecticut from North Carolina and she now volunteers at the zoo as well. “There are so many opportunities to get involved and help your community, you can work with kids or animals, and it’s also a great way to meet new people too,” Carol shared when I asked what she says to inspire others to volunteer.
Carol loves her work at the zoo, she’s made a new friend group, stayed active and said it’s her “Thank you” to the zoo for being her quiet place to walk and reflect for many years. The love and thanks are mutual, Tracy Benham, Volunteer Coordinator shared, “Carol has become one of our “go to” volunteers. While she can be found in the gardens, she will always stop to chat with our guests and assist her fellow volunteers and staff members. She is always cheerful, helpful, kind, super hard working and fun! We love Carol!”
On behalf of Volunteer Square and The Beardsley Zoo, we want to thank Carol for her outstanding service and for inspiring others to follow their passion and give back to their community. Congratulations, Carol!