This week is National Volunteer Week – and to wrap up this week, the Vancouver Aquarium would like to recognize the stellar group of volunteers that helps us run smoothly each day.

One such volunteer is Neil Tracey, who is in his sixth year of volunteering at the Aquarium. Neil had been an Aquarium volunteer for barely a year when he received a call from the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, asking him to swim with a baby harbour porpoise named Daisy who was rescued earlier that day. She needed help staying near the surface of the water to breathe.

The water was freezing, but to Neil, it was so worth it – and it wouldn’t be the last time, either. “I never would have thought I’d ever get to do that in my life,” he says.

This opportunity was definitely a standout experience that will stick with him forever – but it’s just one of many memorable things that have happened during Neil’s time volunteering at the Aquarium. You could almost say that he grew up here; people keep finding and posting pictures of him as a little kid in the galleries as a way to tease him. So when he became eligible to volunteer, volunteering here just seemed like the natural thing to do.

After joining the volunteer program in early 2007, Neil worked as a gallery educator for five years. There, he discovered that he loved teaching as much as he loved the animals, and that he loved the people, too. When other volunteers began to shadow him, he discovered a new calling as a volunteer, and began working with the Aquarium’s Volunteer Services team to develop and deliver their training programs for new volunteers. He also was on the organizing committee for the Pacific Northwest Docent & Volunteer Association’s conference, which the Aquarium hosted in 2010.

Neil’s love for teaching carried into his life outside the Aquarium as well. His first summer job was as an interpreter at the Calgary Zoo, where he says he “went from talking about seals and sea lions to lions and tigers and bears.” He currently teaches first aid classes, and is considering a career as a paramedic, or in training people in occupational health and safety. That is, if he doesn’t go into biology instead. He’s taking a couple of years off from student life at the University of British Columbia, where he was studying forestry, to decide what he really wants to do next.

In the meantime, volunteering at the Aquarium keeps him very busy. In the past six years, he has reached more than 1,600 hours of service and has been an integral member of both the Youth and Adult Volunteer Councils.

“Neil’s constant pursuit of excellence in education inspires all of us – volunteers and staff alike – to provide the best experience possible to our visitors and our volunteers,” says Lindsay Baker, manager of the Aquarium’s Volunteer Services. “The best part is that he leads by example; he’s constantly developing his skills, increasing his knowledge, role modeling, and taking an active role in making change happen. We are incredibly thankful for his contribution to the Aquarium and the Volunteer Services department.”

Neil is one of 1,000 volunteers who help the Aquarium run smoothly each year. To learn more about the Aquarium’s award-winning volunteer program, visit here for more information.

By Eve Rickert, Vancouver Aquarium volunteer

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