Jenny Kvapil is a program specialist at Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail, a zoo facility run by Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services. Jenny is in charge of all Bear Hollow education programs, including summer camps, field trip groups, special events, and outreach programs, which she presents at schools and meetings to teach the local community about the wildlife all around us.
Sharing the Space
On top of planning events and education outreach at Bear Hollow, Jenny is an animal caretaker, and believes her nurturing personality helps her do her job well. Although Bear Hollow has a lot of volunteer help, she loves interacting with visitors, so is more than happy to fill in wherever there are gaps. Many of these interactions with visitors involve live trained and socialized animals, which she uses in all her education programs.
Jenny has shaped her career by talking to the public about how best to interface with animals. When people encounter native wildlife, they often don’t know how to react and may be fearful. Jenny hopes to replace that fear with excitement, by teaching people the many ways in which these animals are actually amazing. Jenny helps zoo visitors to understand that encountering animals is normal, and that we all share the space in which we live. She’s driven by how much simple guidance can help people to responsibly share the environment.
Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can, Teach
Jenny attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and got a summer job working at a nature center after her freshman year. After her second summer at the nature center, Jenny realized that she could make a living with a degree in Environmental Science, and continued working in wildlife rehabilitation for all four summers of college. After graduation, she stayed on at the nature center to focus on human-wildlife interaction for the next two years.
Jenny came South to join Georgia 4-H, which offered her a position in Dahlonega as a seasonal environmental educator. She spent two years teaching environmental education in the woods before taking a position in the Birds and Program Animals Department at Zoo Atlanta, where she spent four years as a full-time “keeper.”
Her position at Zoo Atlanta was a true animal caretaker position, and although fun and rewarding, she didn’t want to step completely away from environmental education. Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail caught her eye as a place where she could do both. The Athens facility exhibits only Georgia’s native wildlife, and the versatility of the position offered to Jenny allows her to do what she’s loved doing for years.
Exposure as Education
Jenny is a strong educator because she’s passionate about helping people understand how to interact with wildlife. She’s also great with kids, the age group into which her students most commonly fall. She loves getting crazy answers to questions, and she is happy to help students feel good about their responses.
Jenny is driven by the personal satisfaction of being a caretaker, but ultimately she hopes that when people meet animals with her, they’ll go on to encounter animals on their own with less fear, and more receptiveness. Heart and mind changing can be fast and complete, as long as people have scientific information and experience from which to refer.
Seeing people’s minds changing is extremely rewarding: ‘It’s actually kind of cute!’ I love feeling like I’ve helped animals in the wild by educating people at the zoo.
Networking for Volunteers
Bear Hollow Zoo relies on volunteers for animal care and education, but most volunteers are college students, so retention is an issue. Jenny would love to grow the education volunteer group to include more permanent residents of Athens, because she could more confidently plan programs knowing that she would have trained volunteers in eight months’ time.
The student volunteer group recruits itself, because students share their experiences and make their friends jealous, but a greater emphasis on local networking may be key to growing a group of long-term volunteers. Bear Hollow uses Facebook to reach out to the community, and Jenny regularly attends events to increase the visibility of Bear Hollow programs.
Photo credit: Carlee Ingersoll