A Very Merry Unbirthday Volunteer Celebration

By Nusrat Symons, Volunteer Resources Coordinator

Click through the photo gallery above to see the celebration! 

Each August, Birch Aquarium gears up for the annual Volunteer Appreciation Event. Our dedicated team of volunteers fill unique Roles and represent our organization as greeters, interpreters, and guides. Volunteers are the face of Birch Aquarium and provide a personal level of customer service, the best possible guest experience, and inspire guests to understand and protect our ocean planet.

Last year, 482 Birch Aquarium volunteers donated a 34,997 hours of their time, which, based on the 2017 value of volunteer time in California, equates to a contribution value of a whopping $1,018,060.

At this year’s appreciation event, we celebrated by going “through the looking glass” with an Alice in Wonderland theme. Education and exhibits staff worked tirelessly to plan and decorate and it really showed when the volunteers entered the transformed aquarium.

Volunteers enjoyed entertainment and activities around the aquarium, then sat down for a “very merry unbirthday” themed dinner. There they were thanked by our Director, Harry Helling (The Walrus), and Volunteer Resources Coordinator, Nusrat Symons (aka the Queen of Hearts). They honored our volunteers and celebrated their milestones of service, from one to 27 years.

Our wonderful volunteers are a diverse group, aged 16 and up and the reward they receive for their service is often intrinsic — it is the satisfaction and meaning found in participating in a cause they feel closely aligned with. Volunteers give their time for different reasons, to gain experience, learn more about their field of interest, to narrow down their educational path, to make a difference in the area of conservation, to learn to teach, and to meet others with similar interests, just to name a few.

We also can’t speak about volunteers without highlighting our summer interns. Seventeen Summer Learning Adventures (SLA) Informal Educator Interns assist with our summer camp and are in the field or in the classroom five days a week. This college-aged team is an essential part of our summer camp program and we wouldn’t be able to do it without them. There are more than 600 campers ages 4-15 this season and our camp interns ensure they have a safe, fun, and educational summer. At the same time, the SLA interns gained valuable experience in pre-K through eighth grade education in an informal science setting.

Thirty high school interns, called InterpreTEENs, are at the seventh week of their nine-week summer commitment to focus on conservation. To date, they have had 58,000 guest interactions while stationed around conservation focused exhibits.

Recently, we hosted an InterpreTEEN reunion and invited interns  from the past eight years. Over 50 alum returned to share stories of their experiences and their accomplishments since their summer at Birch Aquarium. Seeing them gave a window into the impact of the internship and the expanding sphere of influence of their volunteer experience as they pursue their educational and career goals. Many of them, now studying at universities across the country, still keep in touch with each other.

There are not enough words to say about how much we appreciate our volunteers and interns. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all that you do!

If you are interested in volunteering or interning with Birch Aquarium, you can learn more on our website: Get Involved!

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego