Skip to main content

Teens spend their free time volunteering at Greenville Zoo

Rachel Bentley and Marissa Thompson are two of the faithful youth volunteers that serve the Greenville Zoo and its visitors. They are pretty thrilled about the animal residents, too.

Rachel and Marissa are part of the zoo’s Leaders in Training program. The program is for high school juniors and seniors who have already served as volunteers at the zoo for at least one year. It accepts up to five students per year and gives them a variety of responsibilities. In return, those students are part of an ongoing mentoring program.

Marissa Thompson, age 18, is a senior at J.L. Mann High School She plans to study environmental education, outdoor leadership or outdoor ministry. She served as a teen volunteer at the zoo prior to being accepted in the program.

“It let me take on a little more responsibility,” she said. “We do some office work, but our main thing as Leaders in Training is that we are kind of the role models for the other volunteers.”

Marissa said she leads other volunteers and assists with classes, but Leaders in Training are expected and empowered to help where needed – “to take initiative and do what needs to be done,” she said.

“They give us training and let us do our thing,” she said. “My favorite thing about it is being able to connect more with the other volunteers. I get to know them more. They are the people that I work with and I love them all.”

Rachel Bentley is a senior in the South Carolina Virtual Charter School. She plans to study environmental science.

“I’ve always loved animals and loved working with animals,” she said.

Rachel started volunteering at the zoo for special events and then became an official volunteer.

“I started doing home-school programs,” she said. “I really built a relationship with the kids.”

From sharing animal facts to helping with crafts and games, it was a great fit for Rachel. She even presents animals, like Madagascar hissing cockroaches, snakes or skinks.

“I really enjoyed being in the classroom and helping to educate future wildlife conservationists,” she said.

The benefits have gone beyond what Rachel expected, including peer mentoring relationships and mentoring from zoo employees.

“I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” she said. “I’ve had to talk in front of people. I’ve also gained a lot of experience in leading a team of volunteers and confidence in handling animals. It is a lot more work than people think it is, but it is so rewarding and so worth it.”

To learn more about volunteer programs at the Greenville Zoo, visit

More: The 2018 Outstanding Youth Awards empowers youth in its fourth year