Docents / VolunTEENs

Docents / VolunTEENs

education programs

    Turtle Back Zoo Docent Program

    Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has an exciting 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. Class size is limited.

    Training is offered once a year. TBZ is currently accepting applications for the 2024 class.  Training sessions are on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm and begin on Sunday, February 4. Training runs for 8 weeks concluding on March 24, with a snow date of April 7 if needed.

    Recruitment for the 2024 Docent Class is now closed.

    Being a Docent requires you to:

    • be at least 18 years old
    • download, complete, and submit (via mail or email) a Docent Application (link below); deadline for applications is January 12, 2024
    • complete an electronic request for a Criminal Background Check (link below).  You will receive an emailed confirmation that your request has been submitted.  Once you’ve completed the background check request, please forward your emailed background request confirmation to TBZ’s Volunteer Coordinator at to let us know that you’ve completed the request.
    • complete an in-person interview on Saturday, January 20, 2024 (snow date Sunday, January 21)
    • complete a specialized 8-day training course; instruction provided by experienced TBZ staff.  Classes are held from 12pm to 5pm on Feb 4, 11, 18, 25; March 3, 10, 17, 24 with a snow date set for April 7  
    • 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

    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

    Recruitment for the 2024 VolunTEEN Class is now closed.

    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 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 2024) 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.  All VolunTEENS, new or returning, must be available to attend at least one of the training dates.  TEENS who fail to attend one of the training dates will not continue with the program.

    Important Dates/Times:  Dates are firm as of 11/7/23 but may change if needed. 

    • VolunTEEN Application Deadline:  Monday, February 12, 2024
    • VolunTEEN Interview Dates:  Saturday, March 9, 2024 from 2pm-4pm and Sunday, March 10, 2024 from 9am to 11am.
    • Mandatory Training Dates:  Sunday, May 19, 2024; Sunday, June 2, 2024 from 9am to 4pm.  New VolunTEENS are invited to attend both training dates if possible (one date is required).  Returning TEENS should be prepared to attend one of the training dates.

    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 12, 2024.  Late applications will not be considered.

    Recruitment for the 2024 VolunTEEN Class is now closed.

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


    Turtle Back Zoo

    Zoo OPEN from 10am - 4pm daily.