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Volunteers gave over 36,000 hours in 2019

In honor of National Volunteer Week, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s employees thank the zoo’s irreplaceable volunteers for their time and energy all year-round.

In 2019, 364 youth and adult volunteers at the zoo logged a total of 36,385 hours.

“I appreciate all of our volunteers for their hard work and dedication to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and willingness to assist at any time,” said service program coordinator Stacey Luhring.

Seven volunteers have each given more than 20 years of service to the zoo. Another 27 have given at least ten years.

It’s likely you’ve met a volunteer while visiting the zoo. Many of them have probably answered your questions. There were 65 adult volunteers and 136 youth volunteers who interacted with a total of 216,863 zoo guests, helping them learn about and connect with the animals and inspiring them to take action.

Another 13 volunteers provided animal Close Encounters, nine were volunteer divers and seven were horticultural assistants, working hard year-round to maintain the exhibits and grounds to provide an amazing guest experience. Other volunteers were behind the scenes, helping staff provide outstanding care for the animals.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We have the best volunteers around and are forever grateful for their unwavering support,” said Luhring.

Highlighting our volunteers


Ann Shipley receiving award for her outstanding contribution to the zoo

Ann Shipley

In 2019, Shipley was the recipient of the Brightman Volunteer Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution to the zoo and its mission. Shipley first volunteered at the zoo in 2008 and has since given over 1,500 hours of her time.

“Ann offers a wealth of knowledge and experience and I’m so glad to see her every time she comes in,” said lead interpreter Nicole McCormick.

man standing in aquarium
Brian Sterling received the 2019 Rookie of the Year Award

Brian Sterling

Sterling received the 2019 Rookie of the Year Award among adult volunteers for his outstanding service in the first year of volunteering. Since starting, Sterling has already served over 240 hours.

“Brian came to us just as he was retiring and looking for ways to give back. Boy did he! Brian jumped into the rotation in all of our exhibits and donated over 58 hours underwater,” said diving safety officer Gavin Wuttken. “I know in the world of terrestrial volunteering 58 hours may not sound like a lot, but in diving terms think of it this way: Brian spent all those hours in water which is 800 times denser than air so all that scrubbing means he was pushing all that water with each stroke of his brush. In all that time, Brian just said ‘yes’ to whatever we asked of him.”

Emily Mattox

Mattox, a registrar at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s, was given the 2019 Supervisor of the Year Award.

“She impresses me with her knowledge, from remembering the animal names, all the policies on animals, to her computer knowledge.  I’m technology challenged, but when she talks about making spread sheets, I’m impressed,” said volunteer Peggy Sohnly.

Emily Gamble

Gamble was the Zoo Guide with the most youth volunteer hours contributed to the zoo in 2019, serving 220 hours.
“Whether in the goat yard, at the touch tanks, or leading tours of the marine mammal food preparation area, Emily more than doubled the required amount of hours for a Zoo Guide,” said education program coordinator Melinda Shutler. “Her dedication and commitment to the zoo is evident to anyone who meets her.”
Gamble was promoted to Senior Guide, a youth volunteer leadership position, in the fall of 2019.

Jack Gates

Gates received the 2019 Rookie of the Year Award among youth volunteers for his outstanding service in the first year of volunteering.

“Jack’s interpretive skills were excellent and we could tell he had studied the material thoroughly before going on grounds to interpret,” said Shutler. “He also got involved beyond weekly shifts, joining in on a shoreline survey and a pika hike in addition to helping with beach walks.”

Henry Nyland

Nyland received the 2019 Outstanding Interpreter Award among youth volunteers. This award recognizes a Zoo Guide with outstanding abilities to impart information about animals and conservation to our visitors with empathy and charisma.

“Henry has an ability to connect with visitors of all ages and backgrounds with passion and joy,” said Shutler. “As a student at our onsite partner high school (SAMi), Henry’s knowledge of the zoo and its animals is exceptional, making him an excellent representative of the zoo.”

Rylie Luhring

Luhring received the 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award among youth volunteers. The recipient of this award represents the best the Zoo Guide program has to offer, excelling as an interpreter, teammate, and mentor.

“Rylie never fails to bring a positive attitude and strong work ethic to her volunteer work. She is an excellent role model for her fellow volunteers and a tireless advocate for conservation,” said Shutler.


If you love working outside, learning about wildlife and helping others enjoy it too, then we’ve got a spot for you!

LEARN MORE: On our volunteer page

Currently, due to coronavirus concerns, volunteers are not able to be on grounds, but the employees are looking forward to the day the volunteers can once again join them!