Nestled in the coastal hills of the Marin Headlands of Sausalito, lies an amazing facility dedicated to providing veterinary care for sick, injured, and orphaned marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is the largest marine mammal hospital of it’s kind in the world. With a volunteer base of 1,000 individuals, TMMC rescues seals, sea lions, dolphins, and even whales along 600 miles of the California coastline.
Along with veterinary medicine and research, TMMC engages the public in education and offers youth the unique opportunity to gain hands on experience with these marine mammals over a span of five months. Such an intensive program leaves students with an excellent skill set, better preparing them to pursue science-based careers. It also allows them to make connections with other like-minded youth and people who are already engaged in science, education, and veterinary care. Our chat with Deirdre Denmon, coordinator of TMMC’s youth crew, helped us understand this competitive program and what youngters gain from participating.
Tell us a little about your background and current job position.
I’ve been with The Marine Mammal Center for three years and started as an intern. My internship was through a program called AmeriCorps. Through this opportunity I worked within the Education Department for a full year, leading classroom programs and tours. After my internship ended, I was offered a job as Marine Science Educator- Youth Programs Lead. I still teach various school programs, but now I lead the youth volunteer program called Youth Crew.
Can you give us an overview of the youth program at TMMC?
It’s a wonderful opportunity for high school students to volunteer at the world’s largest marine mammal hospital. Youth between 15- 18 commit to five months of work alongside adults and other youth within our Veterinary Science and Education department. During the program they gain hands-on experiences rehabilitating marine mammals and communicating with visitors.
What changes have occurred over the last few years?
We have changed the program drastically over the past years. In the past Youth Crew wasn’t a program – students would apply, get interviewed, attend a one day training, begin volunteering and that was it! Youth Crew is now a longer commitment, running March though July , and it’s only offered to high school students. During the five months, crew members attend monthly themed workshops focused on career development. These trainings provide a unique opportunity for all youth to come together to share experiences, learn, and to have fun!
How do youth benefit from this program?
Students learn the meaning of volunteerism and how to work within a team, while expanding their knowledge of marine mammals and ocean conservation. Everything they learn while volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center could later help them achieve future careers goals in marine biology, veterinary science, or related fields.
What do applicants have to demonstrate in order to be selected for the program? Is it competitive?
Youth Crew is a very competitive program and all interested students must go through a rigorous application process. We have minimal spots available; therefore we cannot accept everyone who applies. Once the application is posted online at marinemammalcenter.org in the fall, all interested applicants must complete an online application, get a teacher recommendation, and have a parent fill out emergency waiver form.
Is there a wrap-up project for participants to share what they’ve learned?
Yes, in July every member must present a capstone project. Students must put together a case study of their favorite patient that they have helped rehabilitate at The Center. Members have the opportunity to invite their friends and family to attend this ceremony and share what they’ve learned while being on crew!
Do you believe participants leave with a greater knowledge of environmental issues surrounding ocean health?
Absolutely. Students in our program go through a rigorous 2-day training before they start on Youth Crew, during our Youth Crew training students learn about common issues and diseases that are treated at The Marine Mammal Center. After this training our students can apply that information from the classroom while they help rehabilitate our patients and educate our visitors.
Where have past youth crew members ended up after participating?
A majority of our youth volunteers continue to volunteer at The Marine Mammal Center. Those who are seniors in high school leave to attend four-year universities, usually studying science related fields.
What is your favorite part about working with the youth program at The Marine Mammal Center?
I love seeing all the new friendships that are created because of the program!
Learn today, act tomorrow
We have already seen how engaging youth in experiential training can have tremendous benefits to improve their knowledge and skill sets for future career choices. By exposing them to volunteerism, the Youth Crew is setting a fantastic example for youth on how each and every person can make a difference – and how to get out there and act to make that difference. Through increased knowledge of ocean conservation, they become more informed consumers who are likely to make intelligent choices at the market. Young people of today need to learn about and experience programs such as this one, so that they may grow up to fully appreciate all the natural resources that our changing oceans provide. Here at Pucci Foods, we support marine science education and experience for all future generations. Contact us to learn more.