ATLANTA (November 13, 2012) – Reaching ‘one millionth’ of anything is no easy task. It is even more impressive when the achievement is measured in hours. Just a few weeks shy of the organization’s seventh birthday, Georgia Aquarium has another reason to celebrate: its volunteer department has reached one million hours of contribution.
The accomplishment was a long time in the making. In preparation for its November 2005 opening, more than 1,000 volunteers were recruited, interviewed and trained. Since then, the volunteer program at the world’s largest Aquarium has expanded exponentially, with volunteers outnumbering staff three to one. As of October 2012, Georgia Aquarium has welcomed nearly 5,700 volunteers into its program, which offers 250 functions in zoological operations, marketing, water quality, dive operations, guest interaction and more.
An inspiring aspect of the group is its diverse make-up. The volunteers span all ages, all backgrounds and in general, are from all walks of life.
“Many may assume that the majority of our volunteers are retirees, but that’s not the case here. We have working professionals in the industries of medicine, science, journalism and beyond, who simply have a heart for educating our visitors on aquatic life, and quite frankly, have a passion for service. For that, we are grateful,” said Alex Desiderio, director of training & volunteer operations.
The milestone is significant to the Aquarium for many reasons. The one million volunteer hours contributed over seven years of operation is equivalent to the work of 100 full-time employees. This allows Georgia Aquarium, a not-for-profit, 501c3 organization, to invest funds in education, research and conservation programs.
“With the dedication and support of our volunteers, they are just as vested in our successful operation as anyone else. They add to the Aquarium their passion, expertise and enthusiasm, which is absolutely paramount to our day-to-day functions” said Georgia Aquarium President and COO David Kimmel.
Equally inspiring is the testament that even in this economic climate people are still volunteering, which aligns with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings that volunteerism in the United States is on a slow rise. The Bureau’s study notes that the volunteer rate in the nation rose by 0.5 percentage point between 2010 and 2011, equalling about 64.3 million people who volunteered through or for an organization at least once during that time.
Georgia Aquarium’s volunteer program requires that its volunteers commit an initial 50 hours of training and continuing education. They are also afforded training from zoological experts where they learn the anatomy, habitats and key information of Aquarium species, along with Georgia Aquarium’s Mission, Values and Vision. Most of the volunteers each complete 100 hours of service per year, which averages out to about eight hours per month.
“Being a Georgia Aquarium volunteer is rewarding in several ways; and they will tell you so,” adds Desiderio. “There’s always the opportunity to learn, but then there’s also this dynamic network of individuals who become friends and begin to lean on one another for a variety of resources. For some, their volunteerism has led to permanent, paid positions here and quite honestly, connected them to jobs outside of the Aquarium.”
Memorable moments shared by volunteers include stories that speak of the “energy and passion” of the group and the joy of wearing the Georgia Aquarium uniform.
“I'm certain I have at least a million memories from the past 7 years,” said Richelle Weinstock, who has served as a volunteer since before the Aquarium’s 2005 opening. “[One is] knowing for sure that I'd never learn the names of all the fish in Tropical Diver or Ocean Voyager [exhibits] until, one day, I did!” Weinstock was a trailblazer in establishing the Volunteer Voice newsletter, a publication specifically for Georgia Aquarium volunteers.
The volunteers’ passion even expands beyond the walls of Georgia Aquarium. A volunteer-established organization, The Travelling Trevallies, organizes excursions to other aquariums around the nation where there are sometimes opportunities to assist in special projects. Past crusades have included whale shark research in Mexico, dock-building in South Carolina and coral preservation projects in Florida.
For more information on the volunteer program or how to become a volunteer for the Aquarium, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org or call 404-581-4000.
ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM
Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s largest with more than 10 million gallons of water and the largest collection of aquatic animals. The mission of Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards; offering engaging and exciting guest experiences promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org