Youth Forward scholarship summer 2016 – My Life With Snakes

Name: Holly Keaing
From: Strongsville, Ohio
Grade: 11th Grade
School: Strongsville High School
Votes: 16

I started volunteering at the Rocky River Nature Center in the
Cleveland Metroparks when I was 13 years old. The fact that
technically I needed to be 16 to volunteer was of no concern to the
employees there. In fact, the volunteer coordinator was thrilled
someone so young wanted to get involved. I just wanted to get out of
my room for the summer, I didn’t think I would take so suddenly and
happily to the work.

What exactly were the jobs that I became so involved in? Snakes. And
turtles, frogs, lizards, salamandars, and fish. Feeding, excercising,
cleaning tanks, and bathing were the main points of my work. But
educating was what I loved the best. I loved to take out the black
rat snake and walk around, letting visitors pet her, talking about
her, what she ate, where they were in the wild. The highlight of my
day was when I could convince someone afraid of snakes to come and
meet my scaly friends.

I became skilled enough in teaching visitors about the animals that I
started a different position. It’s obviously important that all the
animals are used to being handled and are comfortable around large
groups of people for programs. Therefore, my sole task twos hours a
week became making sure that the animals were always comfortable and
social with guests, and to report if they weren’t so as not to
stress them more in a program.

My biggest difficulty is combating the fears associated with the
animals, especially the snakes. And there was always the overzeleous
visitor that I had to excuse myself from because no amount of
direction would keep them from mishandling the animals or being so
afraid that they made other visitors nervous. Dissovling their fears
is always the best part of the job, but there are always those that
are unable to do so.

Uncomfortable situations aside, I believe this job has done a lot for me as well.
I, an introverted person that is nervous talking to people, am more
adept at conversing with children, adults, and groups. Because of all
the time I have spent with these beautiful animals, I know that I
want to work with animals as a career, and the time I have spent with
naturalists has encouraged me to follow a scientific career,
something such as zoology, wildlife biology, or conservation.

I know this is only a minor job. I’m not building houses for the
homeless, or campaigning against drugs and violence. But I hope that
I have touched at least some people, to help adults renounce their
fear of scaly animals, or, hopefully, encourage some of the children
that come to the center regularly to see their snake friends to
involve themselves in volunteering or encourage them to pursue
science when they’re older. And when I leave the nature center, I
hope I have encouraged one of them to take my place, and continue to
teach people about enormous snakes and grumpy turtles.

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