Suncoast Primate Sanctuary welcomes thousands of students and teachers every year to learn about conservation, world ecosystems and endangered species through our outdoor classroom spaces and 120 animal residents. As a safe-haven for unwanted exotic pets and research animals, Suncoast shares our animals and their powerful stories with our visitors as a gateway of understanding, so that upon leaving, young and old alike care more deeply about the world around them.
In addition to classroom fieldtrips, Suncoast staff provide hundreds of high school and college-aged students with unique clinical externships: skill-based, hands-on exotic animal husbandry and veterinary training opportunities that lead to certificates and degrees in the veterinary fields. Suncoast’s educational opportunities are unique and extraordinary; as the only facility in the Pinellas area to allow young adults meaningful opportunities to interact and care for exotic animals, the requests we receive far outpace our ability to provide for all who ask for these special learning opportunities.
The Suncoast Teen Program provides hands-on animal care, conservation, and training opportunities to youth under 18 years of age. Suncoast is the ONLY facility in the area that provides supervision and training and allows youth under 18 years old the opportunity to work alongside a licensed handler to learn proper methods and best practices for the safe care and handling of exotic animals. While many organizations prohibit these children from volunteering, due to the amount of supervision that is involved, Suncoast opens their doors, teaches these young adults new skills, and changes their lived for the better. These students also learn how to become engagement ambassadors and engage and Suncoast sanctuary visitors of all ages on the importance of exotic animal care and enrichment and world-wide conservation issues.
While reliant on a large volunteer base, one of our most successful volunteer programs to date is dedicated to young adults. The Suncoast Teen Program relies on 3 sets of young adults; 1) Bright Futures students- Florida high school students who are required to perform volunteer hours to graduate, 2) veterinary assisting students from Tampa Bay Technical High School and vet tech students from St. Petersburg College, and 3) teenagers (and some children as young as 8 yrs. old), who have been ordered by the court of the Florida Department of the Juvenile Justice to perform community service hours.
Most of these children have been turned down as volunteers at other organizations because of their young age. For over 10 years, SPS has provided approximately 400 children annually with a safe and special place to learn, develop self-esteem and leadership skills and interact with and care for animals. As a Juvenile Probation Officer wrote to us in a letter, “I appreciate your positive interaction with the kids that I place in your charge. Several cases come to mind wherein the youth that have been at your facility have made remarkable changes in their behavior.”
The teens usually commit to between 25 and 100 hours of service at Suncoast, over which time they not only bond with the animals, but learn valuable life skills such as responsibility, leadership, persistence and social interaction with other volunteers and the general public.