Docents / VolunTEENs

Docents / VolunTEENs

education programs

    About the Docent Program

    Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has a wonderful Docent program.  Docents are specially trained volunteers who give educational talks, act as guides, and are stationed throughout the Zoo to provide information to visitors about the Zoo and its animals.  Being a TBZ docent is an enriching, rewarding, and social experience. These are highly selective and prestigious positions.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, class size will be limited.

    Training is offered once a year.  We are currently accepting applications for the 2023 class.  Training sessions are on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm and begin on Sunday, February 5.  Training runs for 8 weeks concluding on March 26, with a snow date of April 2 if needed.

    Being a Docent requires you to:

    • be at least 18 years old
    • download, complete, and submit a Docent Application (link below); deadline for applications is January 13, 2023
    • complete an in-person interview on Saturday, January 21, 2023
    • complete a specialized 8-day training course; instruction provided by experienced TBZ staff.  Classes are held from 12pm to 5pm on Feb 5, 12, 19, 26; March 5, 12, 19, 26 with a snow date set for April 2.  
    • pay a one-time fee of $30 to cover training materials
    • commit to volunteer a designated number of hours/events. Hours are gained from attending a set day (e.g. 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th Saturdays) each month throughout the year. Docents are also expected to staff special events, such as Safe Howl-o-ween, as they occur throughout the year.
    • wear the docent uniform when working with the public (blue docent shirt & khaki pants or blue jeans and appropriate footwear)
    • be a good representative and guide/educator to the visiting public


    Recruitment for the 2023 Docent Class is now closed.

    For more information, please contact the Zoo’s Volunteer Coordinator at

    Applications may be emailed to or mailed to:  Volunteer Coordinator, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, 560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ 07052.  If sending a paper application, please print double-sided to reduce paper waste.


    Turtle Back Zoo VolunTEEN Program

    About the VolunTEEN Program

    VolunTEEN program participants assist Camp Counselor staff with the Zoo’s Summer Camp program. They help prepare for the daily camp sessions, assist campers with crafts and activities, and help keep campers together and safe while on Zoo grounds. Working as a VolunTEEN is a great way to learn about animals at the zoo and share your love and enthusiasm for wildlife with younger peers. Not only is it a fun way to spend part of the summer, you will earn those much needed volunteer hours for upcoming college applications.

    Our summer VolunTEEN program is open to teens from 14-17 years of age. This program has very limited space with the ability to accommodate a maximum of 20 additional teens each year. Because of the limited space, this program is in high demand and will fill up quickly. The application for the program is available online and must be submitted electronically.  New applicants should be prepared with the following in order to complete the application:  2 letters of recommendation from adults unrelated to the teen; 2 short essays, no longer than 1-2 paragraphs each, that answer (1) why do zoos matter and (2) why do you want to be a TBZ VolunTEEN.  Returning applicants must also fill out the application, but do not need to submit rec letters or essays.

    To be a VolunTEEN: You must be 14 (or entering 9th grade in the fall of 2023) to 17 years old, and able to volunteer a full week at a time, Monday through Friday. You may be able to work more than one week if space is available, but a minimum of one full week is required (multiple weeks do not need to be consecutive).  VolunTEENS are required to report by 8:30am and will leave by 4:30pm (8 hours).  Our summer camp sessions run from late June through late August each year.  VolunTEENS work with our summer Zoo Camps ONLY.  Teens will not be working with keepers or animals.  There are two required training days for all new VolunTEENS; returning TEENS must attend at least one training date.

    VolunTEEN Application Deadline:  Monday, February 13 (2023)

    VolunTEEN Interview Dates:  Saturday, March 18 from 2pm-4pm and Sunday, March 19 from 9am to 11am (2023)

    Mandatory Training Dates:  Sunday, May 21; Sunday, June 4 (2023) from 9am to 4pm

    Note:  Dates are firm as of 11/28/22 but may change if needed.  

    For 2023 Applicants

    Please have your personal information available to submit in the application as well as your two letters of recommendation AND your two essays (Why zoos matter? and Why do you want to be a VolunTEEN?) ready to upload.  Applications due Monday, February 13, 2023.

    2023 Application period is now closed.  Applications received after the deadline will not be considered.

    For questions about the Turtle Back Zoo VolunTEEN Program, contact:
    Randy Laxer, Volunteer Coordinator


    Turtle Back Zoo

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