Thoughts from a New Volunteer

by Laurie Cesati | Volunteer

What I really wanted to be when I grew up was a dolphin trainer (or sea lion trainer or marine biologist or you get the idea – something related to the oceans and marine life). For a variety of reasons, my career path took me in a very different direction but I’ve always wondered, “What if … ?”

In recent years, I have become fortunate enough to have time in my life outside of work to for new interests. I began contemplating where could I get my “taste” of marine biology and be able to offer some sort of value to an institution. Other than a personal interest in this type of setting and subject and periodic casual reading about the oceans, preserving the oceans and marine life, I have no formal education in such matters.  

Believe it or not, despite growing up in Massachusetts and being an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, I didn’t know much about SSC until fairly recently. It was only in December of 2018 that I finally took a little field trip to Rye to check it out one cold snowy day. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Small but mighty SSC packs a big punch! I stayed and watched a staff-led program about whale behaviors that was presented to a room of young children, eager to show their version of a whale breeching and a fin slap and learn what these behaviors mean. I explored the rest of SSC like a little kid, in awe of the coral reef tank, the seahorses and sea anemones, the interactive learning modules and my favorite – the touch tank.

I went home, got brave, and took the first step! I completed that online volunteer application and sent it off to Laura Bahl, SSC Volunteer Coordinator. The initial meeting with Laura and subsequent staff has truly been welcoming. I learned that SSC has many different roles for volunteers. Some choose to help at just one event that is meaningful to them each year, some are seasonal and provide assistance with grooming and gardening come spring, some serve as camp counselors during school vacation weeks, others such as myself chose to start with assisting guests at the touch tank.  

SSC provided training regarding the inhabitants of the touch tank as well as safety regarding the handling of these fragile creatures and safety of the little ones eager to get their hands (and hopefully not the rest of their body) wet – two feet on the floor please! For each shift I work, I always learn something new as visitors sometimes do have a question I cannot answer, but there is always a staff member willing and able to teach me, allowing me to teach our guests.

Fabien Cousteau at SSC / Photo by Laurie Cesati

The more I visit, the more I am excited to try new opportunities. For example, I have also been able to use my photography skills to capture images of families visiting SSC, interesting happenings of the creatures of the touch tank (such as the hermit crab deciding to move into a new shell one day) and photograph the recent event they hosted with Fabien Cousteau discussing his ocean explorations and promotion of his new book.

There is a team of only 20 staff that keep SSC running day-to-day; everything from welcoming visitors through the door, maintaining tanks, feeding and health of the creatures that live here, creating educational programs for all ages, fundraising events, seal rescues (and so many more duties I am sure I am forgetting).

Thus far, the SSC experience has been a happy, fun, welcome addition to my life. I would encourage anyone with an interest in our oceans, preserving our oceans and marine life (or just a general interest in choosing to donate your time to a worthy organization) to check out volunteer opportunities with SSC for themselves. Next up for me? I’m going to try leading a craft-making project after my shift at the touch tank – so please, join soon … I’m going to need all the help I can get!!

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