Upon entering the Naples Zoo this past weekend, it was clear there was something exciting going on. A disc jockey welcomed you at the front entrance with upbeat dance music, while children were excitedly holding their Dora the Explorer and Diego inflatable dolls. Hispanic Heritage Month celebration was in full swing.
Sept. 15 marks the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Since 1968, the United States has celebrated Hispanic heritage. For 21 years, it was a weeklong celebration that was until 1989, when it was expanded to be a monthlong celebration — from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year.
In Collier County, 47 percent of schoolchildren come from a Hispanic household. The Naples Zoo saw an opportunity to cater to that demographic and held its first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on the last weekend of month, Oct. 11 and 12.
Courtney Jolly, the Naples Zoo’s director of marketing and public relations, said she hopes it will become an annual event.
“We’ve created a new map and schedule in Spanish and are in the process of creating new educational programs that will also cater to the Hispanic community,” Jolly said.
Jolly said the zoo hosts several events throughout the year, some of their fundraising events being the largest, but community outreach is also important to them. On the first Saturday of every month, admission to the zoo is free to Collier County residents.
With volunteers at this event, many being FGCU students, the zoo was able to offer translators to the Hispanic community.
“It’s something special to be able to offer translators so everybody can have the same experience,” said Jessica Deering, a volunteer project manager.
The Dominican Republic Outreach Program from FGCU was present throughout the zoo, helping wherever needed.
Freshman Tony Guarino IV, a finance and economics major, got involved with DROP because he’s interested in traveling abroad and likes the idea of working with at-risk youth.
Guarino has experience working with at-risk youth, having volunteered at Grace Place Naples for Children and Families.
“DROP just seemed like a good fit,” Guarino said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Univision, which offers news and entertainment programming in Spanish, was present at the event.
Juan Carlos Homez, a producer and journalist for Univision, said that it was important for Univision, to be present at the event and to integrate with the community.
“Many Hispanics came to this country who make a better life for themselves, so it is important that we set an example of how to be better,” Homez said. “We are responsible for that.”
Andy Valiente, a photographer for Univision, said that an event such as this one is so important in a day and age where a lot of people don’t like the idea of the zoo because the animals are enclosed.
“The Naples Zoo helps to rehabilitate animals, so to be a part of supporting such a great organization is a very good thing,” Valiente said.
The zoo is always looking for volunteers for any event, but is particularly interested in bilingual volunteers who would be interested in helping launch their educational initiatives. Anybody interested should contact Jessica Deering at [email protected]