Certain endangered species may attract our attention more than others, but they are all important. To Deanna Murlin, chair of the Ambassadors Circle for the Cleveland Zoological Society, it is the Asian turtle that tugs at her conscience and heart.
“I have become passionate about the Asian turtle program. They are less understood and less focused on by the general public than some animals. But there is something very fascinating about them,” says Murlin, describing the creatures that have been on earth more than 100 million years, but now include many species on the brink of extinction.
Murlin spent days of her youth in the beautiful forests of West Virginia with her biology and life sciences teacher mother and developed a deep appreciation for wildlife. Since moving to Cleveland 12 years ago, she has put that commitment to good use.
When the Cleveland Zoological Society, the nonprofit partner of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, wanted to establish a young professionals group a few years ago, it reached out to a number of Northeast Ohio companies and young professional organizations in the area with track records of community involvement and volunteerism. The Lubrizol Corp., where Murlin is a regional business manager, was one of those contacts. Murlin helped provide advice on starting the Ambassadors Circle and soon found herself in a leadership role.
“I had been to the zoo and thought I understood what it was all about,” recalls Murlin, whose husband, Joe Murlin, is also an active Zoo Society volunteer and Ambassadors Circle member. “But I wasn’t aware of all its local and global conservation work. I think everyone needs to do his or her part to sustain the environment. The Cleveland Zoological Society and the Ambassadors Circle offer amazing ways to offer support.”
Indeed, the Ambassadors Circle is a cool way to socialize, have fun and go face to face with a gentle giraffe. But there is another aspect to becoming a member that can directly affect a young professional’s career path. Today’s savvy employers almost expect their staff to have productive and fulfilling volunteer lives outside the office. Companies know it is good publicity for their businesses. It is also an effective way to encourage employees to give back and contribute to the company’s good corporate citizen reputation — a win for both.
“Corporations are looking for ways to get younger employees involved in the community,” says Sarah Crupi, the Zoo Society’s director of external relations. “We have several people who joined our young professionals group because they heard about it from their boss or one of our trustees. We are hoping to keep these members interested as they move along in their careers. They may someday function as zoo donors or future board members. They could be the future leaders of the Cleveland Zoological Society.”
Crupi says the Ambassadors Circle helps “leverage the uniqueness of the zoo as well as support the core mission and philanthropic priorities of the Zoo Society.
“We hope the group can be a pathway for those who are really passionate about animals and conservation,” she adds. “The money the Ambassadors Circle raises helps fill the need for conservation — something this age group self-identifies with by helping wildlife and conserving natural spaces. If you are a young person in the area and are concerned about the environment, then this is the perfect way to get involved.”
Crupi says the Ambassadors Circle, like other enthusiastic young professionals groups, is a great way for newcomers to become acclimated to Cleveland and get connected. And, of course, young professionals bring their own skill sets to volunteer organizations. While no one has yet offered expertise in, let’s say, cleaning elephant habitats, there are plenty of other talents, including organizational skills, leadership qualities and problem solving, that can be utilized in dynamic ways outside a work cubicle.
A substantial focus of the Ambassadors Circle is raising awareness of the Zoo among the thriving young professional community in Cleveland with the goal of gaining new members to the Zoo. Of equal importance is attracting a younger audience to the group, increasing awareness that “the zoo is one of the top destinations in Cleveland,” according to Crupi. Last year alone, more than a million visitors went through the entrance gates.
“In 2016, the Cleveland Zoological Society held its first Adult Scavenger Hunt, organized by our Ambassadors Circle members,” says Crupi. “It exceeded attendance and revenue expectations, and we saw more social media engagement during the event than any other that year.”
The scavenger hunt has been renamed Zoo Clues & Brews hosted by the Ambassadors Club and presented by Great Lakes Brewing Co. This year it will return to the zoo, 6 to 10 p.m., Wednesday, August 29. The self-guided search, designed for teams or individuals, includes answering wildlife-themed questions and competing for prizes. Costumes are encouraged.
A smartphone is required for the team captain; the zoo has Wi-Fi.
“These volunteers influence programming for their Ambassadors Circle group,” admits Crupi, expressing her pride in the young professionals group.
Take part in these activities and events.
Friday, August 3 — Twilight at the Zoo presented by KeyBank
Friday, September 7 — Date Night at the ZOOvies presented by Vitamix
Thursday, September 13;
6 to 8 p.m. — David Steffee Address in Veterinary Medicine; panel discussion about zoo research and animal care
Thursday, December 6 —
Membership Appreciation Event at Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Ambassadors Circle memberships are $120 per year for two adults. Memberships include unlimited access to the zoo and Rainforest 363 days a year and monthly Sunday Strolls around the zoo at 10 a.m. with other members.
Dates vary, so check Facebook.
(For more information about the Cleveland Zoological Society, the Ambassadors Circle or Zoo Clues & Brews, visit Clevelandzoosociety.org/YP.)