September 11, 2019

Impact Of Volunteers Is Timeless

Think about what you could do with an extra 100 hours. You could read the book that’s been staring at you from the nightstand. Try taking a long weekend, catching up with an old friend, or just sleeping the day away.

Our Fossil Rim volunteers choose to dedicate their extra time helping our organization in many different ways. In fact, Fossil Rim had 18 volunteers with over 100 hours of service each in 2018!

Volunteers Shirley Smith, Sara Paulsen, and Dan Broyles are a holiday force to be reckoned with as “Mrs. Claus,” “Elf,” and “Santa Claus,” respectively. They are fixtures each December for Fossil Rim’s Dream Day and Somervell County Day events. Fossil Rim had 18 volunteers with over 100 hours of service each in 2018!

As we celebrate our volunteers this September, we wanted to shed some light on the importance of our volunteer program to Fossil Rim. It’s hard to put into words how much we appreciate our volunteers, so each year, we throw our volunteers an event to remember!

This year’s party coincides with the 35th anniversary of Fossil Rim’s opening to the public. It is fitting that the theme for our celebration is “35 Years Of…” because volunteers have been an integral part of the fabric of Fossil Rim since its inception.

When Fossil Rim first opened its gates to drive-through guests in 1984, the education department was made up entirely of volunteers. The first volunteer educators were brought over from the Fort Worth Zoo, starting with Judy Oetting, Ruth Martin, and Trich Zaitoon.

It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that great times were had at the 2018 Fossil Rim Volunteer Appreciation Party.

With then-owner Tom Mantzel offering free tours for visiting school groups, the volunteers convinced Tom to invest in an education director. This set in motion a high standard of conservation education to match Fossil Rim’s world-class animal preservation programs.

“The volunteers have worked with, alongside, and for Fossil Rim since the mid-80s, through good times and very challenging times,” said Executive Director Kelley Snodgrass. “Without the volunteers, there’s no question this place could not be what it is today.”

Sadly, Martin has passed away, but Oetting and Zaitoon are still volunteering today. Length of service for our volunteers spans from a few weeks to Oetting’s mark of 37 years. Many of our volunteers have committed thousands of hours over multiple decades.

“The main word I want to use is a ‘passion’ for (Fossil Rim) and a passion for education, conservation, and preservation, and how important the things that we do, right here, can be for the world,” Zaitoon said, when asked what volunteering at Fossil Rim means to her. “When (guests) come out and see what we’re doing, that makes a difference in the world of conservation and preservation.”

The volunteer program currently has 30-40 active members who commit at least 50 hours of service a year. Zaitoon has seen the number of volunteers fluctuate over the years, and while volunteers come to Fossil Rim to lend a helping hand, they also make memories, friendships, and discover a sense of community.

Judy Oetting is Fossil Rim’s longest-tenured volunteer at 37 years and counting.

“Maybe (it) comes from the passion of really wanting to help out, but you soon become a family,” Zaitoon expressed about the volunteer group. “Not many people get to do what we do. And it’s such an honor to be with the people who feel the same way.”

Volunteers invest time in Fossil Rim through an array of opportunities, including education, land maintenance, support projects, customer service, and IT. Although the only animal care opportunities are within the Children’s Animal Center, all roles are still vital to the conservation efforts of Fossil Rim.

There are volunteer opportunities year-round. The busiest times of the year are Spring Break, on national holidays, and throughout the summer, but many projects are more feasible during cooler parts of the year.

In taking over the volunteer program as part of his newly-developed role of visitor programs supervisor, Will Baker is seeking to set volunteers up for rewarding experiences unlike anything else.

“My hope is that when volunteers head home for the day, they’ve felt the impact of their service,” he said. “Every hour spent helping here contributes to the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Our volunteers take that to heart, and you see it in their work ethic and enthusiasm when they’re out here.”

Snodgrass stressed that the impact of Fossil Rim’s volunteers is timeless.

One of Fossil Rim’s most experienced volunteers, Trich Zaitoon was on the scene when the wildlife facility opened to the public in 1984.

“Their commitment, their dedication, how they share their passion and knowledge, plus good, old-fashioned hard work has helped this place progress to where it is and, more importantly, where it can be tomorrow,” Snodgrass said.

Looking forward, Baker has high hopes for the volunteers and Fossil Rim.

“The growth of our volunteer program goes hand-in-hand with the growth of Fossil Rim,” Baker said. “As our organization continues to build, having the extra help is crucial. That’s one of the most special things about our volunteers – they’re part of the building process.”

The next round of volunteer training sessions will be held in 2020.  If you are over age 18 and interested in becoming a volunteer, you can contact Will Baker at and he can add your name to the list of those to be contacted for the training.

-Will Baker, Visitor Programs Supervisor 


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