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News | Nov. 1, 2021

Springfield MEPS community outreach supports zoo Spooky Safari event

By Susan VanBoening Springfield MEPS

The leaves are falling and the weather is cooling. For children, big and small, the end of October is a special time of year to participate in fall programs and festivities. For the Zoo in Forest Park in Springfield, Mass., prepping for their festival was a little easier this year, thanks to the volunteers from Springfield MEPS.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Ashland, Springfield MEPS testing coordinator, and a team of nine MEPS personnel spent a few hours on Oct. 23 assisting the Zoo in Forest Park with much-needed help in preparation for their Spooky Safari event. Ashland said the time they spent cleaning up brush and clearing the area of leaves and sticks at the zoo paid big dividends for them as a unit.

“We got a lot accomplished,” said Ashland. “We cleaned out over half of the zoo that needed to be cleaned out. We were all very surprised how great of a job that we did and it felt really good to give back. You could see it on the faces of the zoo employees that they were very appreciative.”

Volunteerism and community outreach are things that U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Abaigael Hillyard, Springfield MEPS commander, along with U.S. Army 1st. Sgt. Benjamin Ringman, Springfield MEPS senior enlisted advisor, and Ashland have been striving to do for a while. Because of COVID constraints and scheduling conflicts, finding the right time and place to volunteer has been a challenge for Springfield MEPS. Ashland said he explored many options until his SEA threw out an idea.

“The 1st Sgt. suggested trying the zoo and I had never considered it before he mentioned it,” he said. “Gabry Tyson at the zoo was super flexible with us doing volunteer work when it worked with our schedule especially because we didn’t know with COVID if there would be restriction.”

When reflecting on the volunteer experience as a whole, Ashland encourages others to take the leap and find an organization in their community that needs help.

“The hardest part of volunteering is going the first time,” he said. “But then you see new people and you interact. You make friends and connections. Then it means so much to the people that you’re helping and to yourself at the end of the day. I think volunteering is totally worth it.”

The Zoo at Forest Park is a non-profit organization nestled in a 735-acre retreat. Home to nearly 200 animals, the Zoo at Forest Park is also famously known to be the inspiration for many children’s books by Theodore Geisel, the man commonly known as Dr. Seuss.