A volunteer at Beardsley Zoo since 1997, Al Hildred has contributed well over 2000 volunteer hours over the past 23 years. Al has played many roles as a volunteer including working alongside the animal care staff in the Farmyard, spending hours engaging with and educating guests, and working a zoo events. Recently, Al has taken a more administrative role as a volunteer as the Treasurer of the Volunteer Council, where he also previously served as the President. To quote Jim Knox, Curator of Education, “Through his kind manner and selfless contributions, Al has served as a sterling leader, volunteering countless hours to educate and inspire generations of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoogoers.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Al recently about his 20+ years of volunteering at the zoo. I was curious to hear how get got started, why he’s stayed so long, and what he likes best as a zoo volunteer. Raised in Trumbull, and now residing in Newtown, Al shared that he’s always been familiar with the zoo. As a supervisor at Aquarion Water Company, he learned about volunteer opportunities at the zoo. Aquarion not only serves the zoo as a water company, they also encourage their employees to volunteer. Al spends about 6-10 hours volunteering each month with his treasurer responsibilities. He credits Aquarion for being very supportive and flexible, allowing him to run over the zoo during the day for a meeting, if needed. Zoo staff, in return, has credited Al as being invaluable as a liaison between Aquarion and the Zoo.
As a volunteer, Al has done a little bit of everything at the Beardsley Zoo. He shares that Tracy Benham, Volunteer Coordinator, is wonderful. She listens and finds the perfect role for each volunteer. The volunteers love Tracy and she makes being a volunteer very easy. He also credits the rest of the zoo staff, sharing that the education team is wonderful and really focuses on what is best for each volunteer and trains them so they are fully prepared for their assignments.
Al’s favorite thing about volunteering at the zoo is interacting with the guests. Spending time with visitors at an exhibit and being able to answer questions and point out things they have difficulty understanding. He loves to educate and help. As for a favorite animal, well that is the porcupine. He still gives talks from time to time and does a bit in the farm yard.
The Volunteer Council is where Al spends most of time over the last few years. The council is a great way for all the volunteers to be involved, they meet once a month to talk about volunteer topics. With at least 20-25 volunteers attending each meeting, they use the time to ask questions of the staff, receive updates, and share thoughts, resources and ideas with other volunteers. Jim Knox, Director of Education or other staff gives an overview of the animals, Tracy Benham, Volunteer Coordinator, gives an overview of volunteer events and what she needs. The council collects dues and uses the money to further the goals of the zoo, both education and conservation efforts. This year is the anniversary of Earth Day and they are going to be very involved.
Al has truly dedicated himself to the zoo over the past 23 years, and yet he still finds time to do participate in another fun event through the water company and the zoo. He occasionally serves as a judge at science fairs at the local schools and he loves the opportunity to see what young people are creating.
I asked Al how he would encourage others to volunteer and he shared that at work people know that he is associated with the zoo and talk about it with him often. He says that the fun thing about volunteering is that there are times in your life when it works and times when it doesn’t, he said he encourages people to do what they can, when it works for them. “That is the beauty of working with Tracy, volunteers will leave and come back when it works best for them in their lives and she is very understanding of that and welcomes them back each time. No matter what you do, you get as much out of it as you give, the zoo makes you feel appreciated and that goes very far, it means so much more to be recognized. That is why I’ve been there for over 20 years!”
On behalf of Volunteer Square and the Beardsley Zoo, we want to congratulate Al on his exemplary service over the last 23 years and thank him for his dedication!