In the last eight years, Jane Corn has dedicated 4,000 hours — the equivalent of two salaried years — worth of volunteer service to the Tennessee Aquarium.
On Thursday, Tennessee Aquarium president and CEO Keith Sanford and education volunteer coordinator Beth Brellenthin recognized Ms. Corn’s volunteering record with a commorative pin.
The 70-year-old resident of Ringgold, Ga., is a retired veterinary technician. Her decision to volunteer at the Aquarium was motivated by a “love of animals of all kinds” and a simple desire for “something to fill the time.”
That she has now exceeded 4,000 hours came as something of a shock.
“It kind of slipped up on me,” Ms. Corn laughed, the blue and silver pin newly attached to her shirt lapel. “I don’t feel like I’ve been here that long.”
In all, the aquarium has an active pool of more than 500 volunteers, whose roles range from interacting with guests as docents to helping prepare food for the animals. In 2016, this volunteer force devoted about 64,000 hours of their time, the equivalent to almost 31 full-time positions and a combined service valued at more than $1.44 million.
Typically, an active aquarium volunteer contributes 150 to 200 hours of service a year. In 2016 alone, Ms. Corn volunteered more than 630 hours of her time.
Volunteers also typically work within a single aquarium department and usually for one day a week. Ms. Corn’s weekly schedule stretches across four days and three departments — forestry, husbandry and education — encompassing tasks ranging from working with songbirds and butterflies to assisting with the Gentoo and Macroni Penguins.
That rigorous schedule makes her something of an outlier in the aquarium’s volunteer community.
“I would say one percent of volunteers might work in another department. She’s in the 0.001 percent,” Ms. Brellenthin said. “When I need her to do something, she just does it.”
Whatever amount of time they chose to contribute, volunteers are integral to the smooth operation of the Aquarium. That some, like Ms. Corn, decide to devote so much of their time speaks well of both them and the aquarium, Mr. Sanford said.
“We couldn’t open each day without our volunteer force,” he said. “For somebody to hit a 4,000-hour milestone shows their dedication and sense of satisfaction. It’s a win-win situation for the aquarium and for the volunteers.”
Those interested in donating their time at the aquarium, whether as a docent, a diver or a day camp volunteer, can learn more about volunteering opportunities at tnaqua.org/volunteer-opportunities. Volunteers benefits include a 20 percent discount in aquarium or IMAX 3D gift shops, IMAX passes, a family membership (after three months of service), free individual aquarium admission, recognition events and more.
A new round of docent training is currently underway. The next eight-week training session begins at the end of August.