This year marks the 22nd year that the Louisville Zoo Youth Board has been changing the lives of teens 13–18 years old. Founded in 1993, it began as a 30-member board to provide an opportunity for youth to develop leadership skills and to create a forum for youth to be actively involved with the Louisville Zoo.
Headed by Coordinator of Volunteers Diane Taylor since 1997, the Board currently has more than 50 members. The volunteers start at age 13 and depart after their senior year of high school. These dedicated individuals work long and demanding hours for the Zoo — fundraising with face painting and sand art while also aiding the Zoo with miscellaneous events and activities.
Having completed an astounding $20,000 pledge for Glacier Run early in 2012, the Youth Board has moved on to a new focus. This year, the Board voted to raise money for elephant exhibit enhancements. Board President Noah Barnes, an 18-year-old from Frankfort High School, expressed his enthusiasm about the endeavor. “It’s going to be awesome. I’ve seen all the sketches for it,” Barnes said.
Barnes has spent much of his time volunteering with the Louisville Zoo elephants — and he’s not the only one. Board Vice President Cassondra Perkins, a 17-year-old from Dupont Manual High, has also volunteered in the elephant area. “I’ve volunteered with the elephants for the past three years,” she said. “I had a blast. Every time I walk by the exhibit, I stand there and talk to Mikki and Punch.”
96 Elephants (96elephants.org) — a conservation effort to stop elephant poaching and ivory trafficking — is near and dear to them. “When you hear that 96 elephants are killed every day for their tusks, you just want to step in and stop it,” said Perkins. “I’ve seen how amazing these creatures are and how devastating poachers are to their native habitats,” Barnes said.
However, a love for animals isn’t the only thing drawing these young people to the Youth Board.
Board Secretary Emma Brown, an 18-year-old from Christian Academy of Louisville, said the reason she joined the Youth Board was that she enjoyed volunteering and wanted to make friends. “I was hesitant to join at first, but when I got there I felt so at home. Everyone was so welcoming,” she said.
“It changed my life,” Barnes said. “It was hard for me to make friends when I was younger. I came here and everyone was accepting of me. I’ve made lifelong friendships here.”
“You never feel alone,” said Perkins. “I’ve busted out of my shyness shell completely. I would tell anyone thinking of joining to just do it. You’ll make some amazing friends and have great experiences. You’ll also know that you helped support all sorts of different exhibits.”
“We raise a lot of money and we do a lot of good,” Barnes said. “You realize your full potential and how much you can accomplish simply by going to a meeting once a month. It really is spectacular what we’ve accomplished.”
“I feel like we’ve made a difference,” Brown said.
To date, the Louisville Zoo Youth Board has raised $100,000 for the Zoo. In 2011, they were awarded the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Louisville Chapter.
“The Louisville Zoo has a fine group of volunteers, past and present, who have always been and always will be a part of the Zoo’s mission statement ‘To better the bond between people and our planet,’” said Diane Taylor. “They have proven themselves, and I think of them as the next generation of Zoo leaders.”
To become a member of the Louisville Zoo Youth Board, you must be part of the summer teen program. Recruitment is Jan. 1 through March 1 each year. Must be 13 years of age by June 1 of the application year.