Volunteers are an integral part of the team at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. In 2015, our volunteers contributed more than 105,000 hours to help protect aquatic life — we truly couldn’t do what we do without them. While many of our guests encounter volunteers in our galleries on visits to the Aquarium, we have many teams operating off-site as well. In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), and its focus on volunteers in communities, we are profiling three of our dedicated volunteers who have contributed to building the Aquarium community beyond our buildings in Stanley Park.

Volunteer: Masha Baeva, 18, part-time barista and full-time Simon Fraser University student, studying education

The opportunity to meet with diverse groups of people is one of Masha's favourite parts of volunteering on the Street Team.

The opportunity to meet with diverse groups of people is one of Masha’s favourite parts of volunteering on the Street Team.

Her Story: A “huge fan” of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre ever since she was a child, Masha applied to volunteer with the Aquarium’s Street Team in Grade 9, about five years ago.

Since then, she’s represented the Aquarium at a variety of festivals and public events with the Street Team, helping to provide a critical engagement point for the public and raising awareness of our conservation, education and research programs. For Masha, who hopes to build a career in early childhood education, each shift brings an opportunity to interact with a diverse cross-section of the public, which always keeps things interesting and fresh.

“I love the fact that each shift with the street team is never the same,” she says. “I get to meet such a wide range of people within a day, and I get the opportunity to have real conversations with all these people. I love that sometimes you meet an adult who never knew that the only hard part of an octopus is its beak, and sometimes you meet 10 year olds who know more about our props than we do! Either way, our audience is so excited to see what we’ve brought, and are always enthusiastic to hear what we have to say.”

As someone who has always been “tremendously passionate about the well-being of animals,” Masha says her years on the Street Team have also deepened her understanding of the issues facing marine animals and the health of our oceans. One of her favourite parts of the job is coming to shifts with teammates who also volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and getting updates on how the patients there are doing.

But in addition to learning more about marine science, Masha says volunteering with the Aquarium has helped her learn more about herself. “I’ve always known I liked people enough to make a career out of it, but working on the Street Team reminds me of just how much I love it. I’ve learned to be a lot more outgoing, and I have learned very valuable means for approaching people and keeping them interested in what I have to say.” Masha has also had to think quickly on her feet and absorb a lot of information in a short period of time. “Sometimes I’ll have a shift scheduled but I’ll know nothing about the feature exhibit we’re talking about — like salmon. I learned a lot about salmon in half an hour, and continued learning all throughout that shift; I really love that I get those kinds of experiences.”

Taking part in the Autism Speaks Walk for Autism was a stand-out moment for Masha.

Taking part in the Autism Speaks Walk for Autism was a stand-out moment for Masha.

Along the way, Masha has amassed many memorable experiences, but a few stand out for her. There was a toddler at West Vancouver’s annual COHO Festival who was so enamoured by the Street Team’s otter puppet that he hung out with them all day. And Masha found participating in Autism Speak’s Walk for Autism event at Stanley Park to be particularly inspiring. “Meeting so many people affected by autism was eye opening,” she says. “People were overjoyed, and so excited to see the Aquarium’s presence there, and so wholeheartedly open to learning about the props we had and the things we do. I left this shift with eyes much more open and I was so happy to have gotten to learn more about autism, as well as interact with people with this condition.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, or to apply, click here.

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