It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we’re shining the spotlight on the “Mother of Volunteers,” the woman who single-handedly created our Volunteer & Intern Services program from the ground up for WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium. The woman with a vision is no other than Jenny Greber, Community Engagement Manager, and head of the Volunteer & Intern Services program.
“I started at the aquarium in July of 1999, and the grand opening was May 15, 1999, so I came in less than two months later and after three weeks I had my first volunteer on the exhibit floor.”
“I actually created my job. I was living in Seattle at the time and my mom sent me this newspaper clipping in the mail that said an aquarium was being opened (in Newport). I called and explained to them that I had volunteered and worked for the Seattle Aquarium and I told them I would like to come and help out there.”
Initially they told her that they were not going to have volunteers. They told her to call back later after they had officially opened, and call back she did.
“I called back every month for three months,” said Greber. “On the last call I gave them a list of reasons why they really should include volunteers in their aquarium.” They were so impressed by her determination that they asked her to fax over her resume. From there, Greber would have a phone interview with the aquarium, they faxed her an offer, she accepted and the rest as they say is history.
Jenny Greber has been at the aquarium for almost 19 years. Her anniversary is this July.
“I started the volunteer and intern services program from scratch, which has been a wonderful opportunity.”
Jenny has been here every step of the way and has seen the WAVE Foundation and Newport Aquarium grow along the way. Believe it or not, at the time, not everyone was on board with the idea of having volunteers.
“There’s always road blocks with change, whether it’s good or bad, its human nature. People resist change, regardless of what it is. Coming in after the aquarium opened was challenging, people were worried that these volunteers were going to take their jobs, and they weren’t,” says Greber.
“Volunteers are icing on the cake, they aren’t the cake, they are the icing, and they are here to help, they are here to share our mission, they’re here to engage our guests and add that extra sugar on top value that we want to keep giving on a consistent basis.”
“My favorite part about my job is that I have the opportunity to allow the community to take part and be a part of this family. The community enhances that family dynamic. To have others experience that is awesome and that’s my favorite part.”
Of course with being the Community Engagement Manager for almost 20 years, there are many parts of Jenny’s job that she adores.
“One of the things I get really excited about is where people land after they get done having their journey here, this is just a stepping stone for a lot of the younger people in our community. It’s so wonderful to know the hundreds of people that we put into the industry that are now at AZA accredited institutions,” she said.
“To see the teenagers who are now PhDs, to see some of the summer naturalists who are now veterinarians, to see some of the volunteers and interns who are now working here as employees, no matter what department they’re in.”
Jenny’s experience, “building a program from scratch to having over 300 active volunteers,” is unparalleled, according to Dan Dunlap, the Conservation Education Curator at WAVE Foundation.
“Her knowledge of the volunteer industry and her connections in the community are irreplaceable,” said Dunlap.
WAVE Foundation’s Volunteer Department recently won a prestigious award at Social Venture Partners’ fifth annual Fast Pitch competition. WAVE was recognized with the Inspiring Service Volunteer Engagement Award.
“I love my job, this is my dream job, and I’m really excited to be able to see where we started, see where we are and to have an idea of where we’re going to go.”
Jenny Greber has changed the lives of thousands of volunteers and interns, and helped hundreds secure job opportunities within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.
Want to volunteer? Come and join our family at WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium and check out our volunteer and intern services opportunities on WAVE Foundation’s website or give the Community Engagement Office a call at 859-815-1424 for any questions you might have! This is a family you will be proud to be a part of!