The summer before my junior year of high school I spent a few weeks serving as a volunteer for Zoo Camp at the Santa Barbara Zoo. At the age of 16, I along with a counselor, spent the days leading groups of 10-15 children around. We learned about the animals and observed their behavior. We also played games, did activities, made crafts with the kids and sang lots of great Zoo Camp songs. During my experience I met a smart, strawberry blonde camper who attended multiple weeks of Zoo Camp and quickly memorized all the songs. Her name was Brooke and she was four years old. Brooke arrived on time every morning, well prepared and excited for the day ahead. She always stayed out of trouble and she loved singing Zoo Camp songs.
I loved my time at the Santa Barbara Zoo and I continued to volunteer throughout high school. I helped prepare for special events, interpreted exhibits for guests, observed the giant anteaters’ behavior patterns, created enrichment for the leopards and elephants, as well as assisted in documenting the behavior of the newly arrived western lowland gorillas. My passion for wildlife led me to graduate from San Marcos high school early in order to complete a six month internship with the Cheetah Conservation Fund(CCF) in Namibia, Africa.
At CCF in Namibia I assisted in the education department by hosting large school groups that would come to learn about cheetahs. I participated in the husbandry of both non-releasable and rewilding cheetahs. I also played a role in the development of the new Cheetah EcoLodge, as well as cared for a fleet of anti poaching horses that would patrol CCF land.
While I was in Namibia, my mom connected with her childhood friend, Jennifer Talt Lundin. On Easter Sunday my mom dropped off some Easter lilies from the church she attends with Jennifer. The lilies were in honor of Jennifer’s daughter. Just a few months earlier in January, Jennifer’s daughter Brooke had died tragically and suddenly. Jennifer and her husband Ken were devastated at the passing of their young daughter. As my mom and Jennifer talked about Brooke, it was revealed that her favorite animal was the cheetah. Since I was at CCF in Namibia working, Jennifer and Ken felt a special connection and they decided to do something for the cheetah, in honor of Brooke.
On June 7th 2017, what would have been Brooke’s 6th birthday, Ken and Jennifer set up a lemonade stand for CCF. Later, in order to get Brooke’s cousins involved in the celebration they hosted a second lemonade stand. Family and friends who knew and loved Brooke came to drink refreshing lemonade and make a donation in her honor.
At the end of 2017, Jennifer and Ken sponsored “Rainbow”, a resident cheetah living at CCF. They chose to sponsor Rainbow in particular, because a beautiful rainbow had spanned the sky after it started to rain at Brooke’s celebration of life service. Rainbows have became a source of comfort and encouragement to Brooke’s parents.
This year for Brooke’s birthday, Jennifer and Ken organized a party at Padaro Beach Grill in Carpinteria, CA. People gathered around to celebrate Brooke’s life and the cheetah; the animal that she loved so much. “Live a Great Story, Love Everything.” This was Brooke’s motto.
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