Youth volunteers have been a part of the Audubon legacy in New Orleans for decades. Thirty-five years ago the Jr. Keeper Program at the zoo was launched, followed by the AquaKids at the Aquarium volunteer group 15 years later. Now, young people have the opportunity to volunteer at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, as well as the Nature Center, with the Youth Conservation Corps program.
Overall, the Audubon Nature Institute’s youth volunteer programs offer a variety of opportunities for people aged 11 to 19 to help make a positive impact on the natural world. The programs emphasize learning, creativity, teamwork and environmental stewardship. Plus, the groups are accessible to fit a wide variety of ages, interests and schedules. At this time, Audubon’s seven youth development programs are: Jr. Keepers at the Zoo; Jr. Aquarists at the Aquarium; Jr. Naturalists at the Nature Center; Jr. Ecologists at the Aquarium and Butterfly Garden; Eco Krewe at the Zoo; and Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), which runs monthly environmental service initiatives.
The programs are wildly popular, too. In 2018, 268 youth volunteers participated in Audubon’s many programs, contributing 26,295 hours of service, explains Llewellyn Everage, Director of Volunteer and Intern Resources for the Audubon Nature Institute. Plus, the volunteers make a real impact on the local environment. For instance, the Audubon Youth Council, made up of 13 youth volunteers from across facilities, raised $1,000 for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation last year. In addition, the YCC performed nine environmental community service learning projects in Louisiana in 2018, contributing to the protection, wise use and enjoyment of Louisiana’s natural resources. Because of these and other initiatives, the Audubon Nature Institute’s youth volunteers were named Youth Conservationists of the Year for 2018 in the Annual Governor’s State Conservation Achievement Recognition Program conducted by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
Everage’s pride in the volunteers is evident. “Our teens constantly impress us with their brilliant project designs, poise with public speaking and innovative approaches to environmental stewardship.” It is a fantastic way for young people with an appreciation for the natural world to gain real-life skills in a meaningful way.