PETTING PENGUINS

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.
— Martin Buber
 Tara and Beth.

Tara and Beth.

Volunteering has its inherent rewards. It feels good to do good. You meet wonderful people. You learn new things, new skills, about others, and about yourself.

And sometimes, you get to pet penguins.

The thing to remember about volunteering is it doesn't always have to be about working with non-profits. Parks, teams, theaters, zoos, and so much more can often use an extra set of hands. The help they get cascades beyond what you do for them. These organizations improve communities, give people jobs, give folks a sense of pride, enhance the arts, preserve wildlife.

And sometimes, you get to pet penguins.

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Just west of Wichita, Kansas, in a small town named Goddard, tucked behind a group of houses off of a gravel road, Tanganyika Wilde Park can be found. An oasis for wildlife on the plains of the mid-west. Late winter is a busy time for them as they prepare to open for the season. We sent them a message seeing if they could use some help. Tara put an aside that she really liked penguins. The seeds for a dream come true were sowed.

A few days later, we heard back. Turns out they were going to drain their penguin pool and were excited to get some help cleaning out the sand and detritus. The seed had sprouted.

We arrived with our work gloves in hand, and the unspoken hope that we might get to at least see and be impossibly near some penguins. The morning went by fast. After getting the pool cleaned up, we were assigned to some landscaping duties. But before that, we got our reward.

"Wanna meet the penguins?" Tricia, the penguin keeper asked. An unnecessary question, as the obvious answer was yes. And so we got to see them all, and even got to spend some quality time with the ambassador of the waddle, Beth. She walked over, we bent down, and then that magic moment happened. That thing that a person hopes will someday happen. Reaching out, we got to feel the soft and silky feathers of a penguin. We got to pet a penguin.

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After Tara regained her sight (she went blind with joy), we also were treated to a meeting with the resident river otters. They were happy to meet us, shake hands (actually just their hands on one of our fingers), and pose for photos.

The rest of the day was blur. The landscaping was tiring and bruising work, but with the adrenaline rush caused by our animal encounters, and the constant encouraging and appreciative words from the staff, it felt easy (until the soreness kicked in the following day). 

Find something you love. Find out how you can help. People rarely turn down free help, and everyone and everything involved is usually better off because of it. The rewards may not be immediate and obvious. The work may be cold and wet. The rewards may be too.

Sometimes you get to pet penguins.