Volunteers with Down Syndrome Contribute to a Special Experience for Denver Zoo Visitors

Global Down Syndrome Foundation and the Denver Zoo Partner in a Unique Volunteer Experience.


Denver, CO – Did you know that wolves are dedicated and compassionate parents? Were you aware that prairie dogs play an important role in the eco-system?

Do you know that people with Down syndrome can volunteer at the Denver Zoo?

Denver Zoo visitors learn the answer to those questions and many other fascinating facts about animals in the captivating Wild Encounters presentations held twice on Saturday or Sunday afternoons through September 3rd. Christopher Koren and Felix Ybarra, two young men with Down syndrome, are volunteers who assist the show’s M.C.

Christopher and Felix are involved in the presentation from beginning to end, starting with auditorium set up, inviting guests to view the show and assisting Rob Frantum-Allen, the Wild Encounters M.C.  “They bring a curiosity and willingness to the show that enhances the audience’s experience,” says Robb. “The crowd loves it when they help me with the story telling”.

Chris and Felix are excited to be zoo volunteers. “I love the animals and I enjoy saying my lines in the story about the seven blind mice.” says Felix, who comes in three hours early to assist Rob with another weekend program.

Christopher’s favorite part of his job is showing the animal props to the audience, including a wolf pelt and elephant tooth.  His face lights up when the guests come in to enjoy the presentation.

Michelle Sie Whitten, executive director of Global Down Syndrome Foundation, who brought the idea to the zoo, says, “This is not only a chance for Felix and Christopher to show how capable they are, but their example encourages other individuals with Down syndrome to get involved.”

The Wild Encounters presentations alternate each week on Saturday or Sunday afternoons with one show at 12:00 pm and the second presentation at 1:00 pm. The shows last 15 minutes and are free for zoo guests. The show ends September 3.

For more information contact Trish Morris, Program Director with Global Down Syndrome Foundation at 303-807-7898.

About the Global Down Syndrome Foundation

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a public non-profit 501(c)(3)  dedicated to significantly improving the lives of people with Down syndrome through research, medical care, education and advocacy.  Formally established in 2009, the Foundation’s primary focus is to support the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, the first academic home in the US committed to research and medical care for people with the condition. Fundraising and government advocacy that corrects the alarming disparity of national funding for people with Down syndrome is a major short-term goal.  The Foundation organizes the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show – the single largest annual fundraiser benefitting people with Down syndrome.  Programmatically the Foundation organizes and funds many programs and conferences including the Dare to Play Football and Cheer Camps, Global Down Syndrome Educational Series, and Global Down Syndrome Multi-Language Resource Project.  The Foundation is an inclusive organization without political or religious affiliation or intention.

About Denver Zoo

Denver Zoo is home to 3,800 animals representing more than 650 species and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA accreditation assures the highest standards of animal care.

A leader in environmental action, Denver Zoo is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the environment in support of all species and is the first U.S. zoo to receive ISO 14001 certification for the entire facility and operations. This international certification ensures the zoo is attaining the highest environmental standards.

Since 1996, Denver Zoo has participated in 557 projects in 57 countries. In 2010 alone, Denver Zoo participated in 92 projects in 22 countries and five continents and more than $1 million in funds was spent by the zoo in support of animal conservation in the field.