Once a month I have the great honor of visiting the children’s ward at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Diego as part of the San Diego Zoo’s outreach program. It is truly a heartwarming experience for my colleagues and me. One month we had a great time and some extra help from our friend, Yvette McClain, who works in the Zoo’s Merchandising Department.
We prepare for each visit by collecting a number of items for a bedside activity bag to give to the children. Since we are a conservation organization, we decided to have themes that match the San Diego Zoo’s Top 10 conservation initiatives. This particular time our focus was on the giant panda. All of the children received a panda mug, a story book or journal, depending on the age, a few games, and special panda-themed items.After fellow educator Kimberly Carroll and I assembled the activity bags, we gathered up two very cute and touchable critters. These animals are special ambassadors from the Zoo that are trained to make help people make connections with wildlife. On this visit, a black fluffy rabbit named Darth Vader and a little African hedgehog named Thula were the ambassadors that accompanied us. After all of the goodies and critters were ready, we hopped into our hybrid vehicle and cruised on over to the hospital. Once we arrived, the hospital’s child life specialist greeted us and escorted us to each room for a visit.
As you can imagine, every kid enjoys meeting a fluffy rabbit, and Darth is great at sitting quietly to be petted. Thula, the hedgehog, wiggled her nose and rolled into a ball, much to the children and parent’s delight. Yvette was thrilled to see the happy smiles when she handed out panda plushes. One infant was given a panda rattle, and a little toddler squealed with glee when Yvette gave her a panda chime ball.
When it was finally time to go and all the goodies are given away, we headed back to the Zoo. However, we had a smile on our heart and a happy thought that we were able to bring a little bit of pandas and the Zoo to these special children.
Rachelle Marcon is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.