The National Aviary in Pittsburgh has named Bethel Park resident Elaine Steffenauer its 2019 Volunteer of the Year, in recognition of her nine years of service and her passion for engaging visitors in the world of birds and nature.
This year, she has continued to make an impact by being among the first volunteers to return to the North Side institution after its closure for more than three months because of COVID-19.
“I came back to the National Aviary as soon as I could, and I felt very comfortable returning with the safety measures in place,” she said. “My first day back, I walked around and was so glad to see the birds again and get back to docenting.”
As a docent, Steffenauer works in habitats such as the Wetlands, home to 150 birds, and the Tropical Rainforest, where more than 90 birds live, maintaining a strong knowledge base of the species in each room.
“I have really enjoyed the opportunity to keep learning as a volunteer,” she said. “I enjoy talking with our guests, helping them to learn about the birds, and sharing what goes on behind the scenes with conservation, education and training.”
She answers visitors’ questions and helps them to engage with the diverse species they encounter.
Steffenauer also assists with African penguin feeding sessions and leads Penguin Encounters, educational small-group experiences where participants meet an endangered African variety up close.
An experienced educator, having worked in daycare and in preschool education for most of her career, Steffenauer began volunteering for the aviary while her daughter was serving as an intern.
The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the National Aviary. Despite its temporary closure and capacity restrictions limiting earned revenue, the aviary continues to provide uncompromised, high-quality care for the more than 550 animals that call it home.
The National Aviary’s volunteers have been integral in helping the facility to operate as efficiently and as safely as possible, and to provide an immersive and enjoyable experience for guests. While applications for volunteers are currently paused, individuals can contribute to the care of the National Aviary’s flock by visiting aviary.org to make a donation.
The United States’ only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated to birds, the National Aviary recently was named Pennsylvania’s best zoo, according to Yelp reviewers. The aviary’s large walk-through habitats create opportunities for interaction between visitors and free-flying birds, including many species rarely found in zoos anywhere else in the world.
For more information, visit www.aviary.org.