Volunteer Spotlight In Honor of National Volunteer Week

In Honor of National Volunteer Week...

Every year, hundreds of volunteers donate their time and energy to advance The Sanctuary’s mission to provide safe haven and care to retired captive elephants and raise public awareness about the needs of elephants in captivity and the wild. We would like to introduce you to a few of them.

Colleen Rossi, Shamong, NJ— Bottom row, second from left


Diane Rutherford, Oak Ridge, TN

Kyle Gavulic, junior at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN — Back row, far left


How did you find out about The Sanctuary?

Colleen: I started doing online Distance Learning programs with my third graders at the Osage School in Voorhees, NJ in 1998. We fell in love with The Sanctuary and have stayed involved ever since. We conduct fundraisers in our school and still participate in Distance Learning.

Kyle: I first heard about the Sanctuary through Vanderbilt Alternative Spring Break, which is the organization that I belong to that gave me the opportunity to volunteer at the Sanctuary over spring break.

Diane: I was preparing to teach a unit on Africa to my high school geography class and was researching elephants in order for my students to complete a project. In my search, I came across The Elephant Sanctuary. I was completely amazed and temporarily forgot Africa.  My geography students traveled from Tennessee to Africa and then back to Tennessee!

Can you describe some of your volunteer activities?

Diane: My first presentation was to the Fairfield Glade Rotary Club in Crossville, TN.  I was a bit nervous, but my passion carried me through it. At my second event, Scruffy City Vegan Fest in Knoxville, I set up a table, educated those who stopped by, distributed materials, and did a presentation on The Sanctuary. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to share information to my fellow vegans. This January I gave an in-service training to 25 teachers (standing room only) in my school district, Oak Ridge, TN. I taught my fellow teachers and no doubt they will share this knowledge and love of elephants to their students. I am currently scheduled to present to a group of educators in Kingston. In March, I was able to share my Sanctuary love to the throngs of people at Mardi Growl in Knoxville.

Can you think of a particularly rewarding experience you had volunteering for The Sanctuary?

Colleen: After teaching my students about The Sanctuary for 20 years, being able to stand on The Sanctuary’s ground during a Volunteer Day brought tears to my eyes. It made my years of teaching about the elephants that much more real. I am more committed than ever to The Sanctuary.

Kyle: As a site leader for my Alternative Spring Break group at The Sanctuary, it was rewarding to see how each person in my group became increasingly engaged with the issue of animals in captivity over the course of the week and how it fits into a larger, international conversation that is needed to be had in order to better the protection of elephants. It was also very rewarding to see how much we accomplished at the end of week serving The Sanctuary and the elephants.

What does volunteering (for The Sanctuary and in general) mean to you personally?

Kyle: I’ve learned more about elephants than I thought I would ever know including what their veterinary care looks like, their natural history, the differences between the Asian and African species, what steps we can take to further the welfare of elephants in the wild abroad and domestically in captivity, as well as the operations of The Sanctuary itself. I’ve also learned how even the smallest of measures to better the welfare of elephants can really add up to make a big difference.

Colleen: I find volunteering and helping others to be transformative. When I GIVE, I find I RECEIVE so much more in return.

Diane: My passion for elephants (all animals) is deep-rooted in my soul. The opportunity to educate and to share this passion is almost a need for me. People need to know/learn about the crisis facing these beautiful, magnificent, gentle creatures, and there is no better segway than telling them we have elephants in Tennessee. As a teacher, I share my passion with my high school students, and they then become educators. There is no better feeling than hearing one of my students share their new found knowledge with other students, staff, and adults. They almost always start with, "Did you know we have an elephant sanctuary here? In Tennessee?" 

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