In just days, Woodland Park Zoo will host our 23rd annual Puget Sound Buddy Walk! We are clearly thrilled with this new partnership and spoke with the zoo’s President and CEO Alejandro Grajal about this event and the zoo’s ongoing commitment to inclusion and access for all.
We are so excited and grateful that Woodland Park Zoo is hosting our Puget Sound Buddy Walk this year! How did this opportunity arise?
“This came straight out of Special Olympics last year, but the zoo is booked months in advance and wasn’t available on the date the Down Syndrome Community had already chosen, so we said, ‘let’s plan for next year!’”
It’s obvious the zoo is as excited to host us as we are to be hosted at the zoo.
“It’s great that we’re making this connection between the Down Syndrome Community and the zoo community! Synergies make a rich environment in which we can help each other with our particular goals. We can be stronger together.”
In recent years, the zoo has focused on being a welcome and fully inclusive place. How did that become a priority and what actions have you taken to make it happen?
“Part of the overall new vision of the zoo – as a true conservation organization – is to create a conservation movement for the planet.” In this context of bringing us all together in this movement to create change, the zoo wanted to “walk away from an elitist point of view” knowing that “everybody’s point of view and opinion is as valid as everyone else’s.” Says Dr. Grajal, “I bring my passion to the community of people with disabilities because I think it has been neglected and one of the most genuinely invested in producing change.”
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are core elements of what we are doing.” The zoo is clearly demonstrating this intent. It has more than doubled it’s offering of free admission to individuals and families that have historically had less access to the zoo, including low-income and at-risk populations, military veterans, and the disability community. In addition, initiatives such as Zoo For All show the zoo is taking action on it’s philosophies. “We are one of the most important cultural assets of the region” and as such the zoo wants everyone in our broader community to be able to experience this amazing asset that is Woodland Park Zoo.
How does this commitment to inclusion extend to your volunteer and work force?
A couple of years ago, the Zoo became a leader in the Welcome Inclusion Initiative. “When we took the WIN pledge that was about changing the way we define and operate our jobs so that we are more inclusive in our job descriptions.”
“We just got a significant grant with the explicit goal of making our volunteer workforce more inclusive – to train, review jobs and descriptions, and reach out to the disability community.” The zoo would love if “it would be common to see people with different disabilities volunteering and working at the zoo. I feel that we’re just taking the first steps.” The grant is a model for the nation’s zoo and museum community and will have many eyes turned toward Woodland Park Zoo watching to see their success.
Your mission includes extraordinary experiences. What is it you want our members to experience?
“What we mean by extraordinary experiences are the kind of experiences that motivate and empower people to change the planet, to take action. Every moment of your time at the zoo, from parking, to walking through the gate, to seeing an animal – any of these moments can be an agent of change.”
Do you have a favorite animal?
“No. That would be like picking a favorite child!… but I don’t like leeches, maybe they’re my least favorite.”
Any last thoughts for our members?
“We’re very proud to host the Puget Sound Buddy Walk. And we love having you here at the zoo everyday. Please feel welcome and come here often.”
As members of the Down Syndrome Community, we can continue to support the tremendous efforts of Woodland Park Zoo by participating in a special online giving event beginning Oct 2. Giving begins at $1 and you can specify that your donation support inclusion by selecting Zoo For All – or choose an area that resonates with you. We look forward to seeing you at the Zoo!
Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.