Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Invitation to Join the Aquarium Team as a Docent

Many visitors may not know the difference between a gentoo or macaroni penguin when they arrive at the Tennessee Aquarium, but by the time they leave most are able to recite bird facts, turtle trivia and maybe even a tadpole tidbit or two. But that wouldn’t happen as often without the help of friendly volunteers who are waiting around virtually every corner to greet Aquarium guests. “Our volunteer docents receive extensive training on the plants and animals in every gallery,” said Julie Piper, the aquarium’s volunteer manager. “Their day varies from talking about conservation or education, but a lot of the time their job is simply customer service - providing good old fashioned southern hospitality.”

The word docent means sharer of knowledge, and for the past eight years Bill and Jola Burch, shown above in the Delta Swamp Exhibit, have been sharing their love and knowledge of the natural world with Aquarium visitors. Bill and Jola drive from Cleveland, Tennessee to Chattanooga once a week to volunteer. Jola is a retired teacher who enjoys her role as informal environmental educator. “We feel like we’re doing something for somebody else. We’re helping the Aquarium, but we’re also helping other people enjoy what’s happening at the Aquarium. It makes you feel good,” says Jola.

Bill enjoys interacting with the public as a docent, but he also enjoys getting face to mask with many of the aquatic creatures in his dual role as a volunteer diver. “Docents and divers are both specialists in their roles. Docents offer good customer service and knowledge about the Aquarium with them, and divers bring a physical skill-set to the Aquarium,” says Bill.

Piper is quick to point out that the Aquarium’s two buildings require an ample supply of docents to greet guests and share knowledge. “That’s our primary concern right now, recruiting more docent volunteers. Our next training session begins September 15 from 6:00 pm to 8:15 pm,” said Piper. Classes continue for the next seven Tuesday evenings until graduation.

Candidates who are willing to invest some of their time with this non-profit organization enjoy the following perks:

- Family membership (after three months of service)
- Free parking during each volunteer shift
- A limited number of IMAX passes
- A limited number of Aquarium guest passes (after one year of service)
- 20% discount in the Tennessee Aquarium or IMAX 3D Theater gift shops
- Volunteer recognition
- Pass exchanges to other attractions

With over 600 volunteers at the Aquarium, many people might be surprised by how many new friends they’ll make, or old friends they’ll meet under the glass peaks in downtown Chattanooga. “We have a whole new group of friends that are like an extended family. And when a new volunteer comes in, we make them feel right at home and we pull them into the group,” said Jola Burch. “You may already have friends that volunteer here and you didn’t even realize it,” said Piper.
To volunteer at the Aquarium, sign-up online at:
Or call the volunteer office today at: 1-800-262-0695 ext. 3057.

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