We’re very proud of the fact that we have been able to provide excellent care to sick and injured sea turtles for over two decades. And we’re really proud to be doing it on a 24/7/365 basis with our all-volunteer staff. Whenever you have about one-hundred volunteers working that many days and that many hours it’s always nice to know that the cavalry (aka interns) are coming to help out for the summer. But summer ends and our help goes home around mid-August when we still have tours five days a week, along with a houseful of turtles. So this year we tried something we haven’t done before, and we’re glad we did. We offered our “junior” internship to a “senior.”

Amy Kilpatrick from Fredericksburg, Virginia retired last year after 30 years of teaching. One of her co-workers was telling her about the junior internship her daughter had done at our hospital, and Amy, having a self-proclaimed “passion for wildlife” decided to check us out. She has been taking a course back home that will certify her as a “Virginia Master Naturalist,” which Amy was quick to point out “that doesn’t mean nudist.” Her classes are both indoors and outside concentrating on the Chesapeake area and she found that “the turtles were speaking to me.”

Obviously commuting from Virginia once a week to work year-round was not an option, but leaving hubby at home for a few weeks — that could work. So Amy sat down and wrote us a letter inquiring about a junior internship in late summer. Amy: “After I sent it out all I could think about was, is this a stupid thing to do? They’re not going to consider this.” Well, surprise! We didn’t think it was a stupid thing to do, and her offer to help was coming at a perfect time of the year.

Amy: “As I was driving down here I was very nervous at first. But I kept seeing reassuring signs that I was definitely doing the right thing. I saw turtle images all along the way and even saw a large cloud shaped like a sea turtle.”

Amy had no idea what to expect once she got here “but I thought I’d mostly be observing.” That’s not the way we roll. After one day Amy was working along with the staff, feeding, cleaning tanks, bathing turtles, sweeping and mopping floors and folding piles and piles of towels. “I didn’t realize how far you walk all day, and on cement. I had ‘cankles’ but I loved it! And after years of being a teacher I loved being a student.” And tours? “I felt burned out from all those years of teaching but tours here were a very different experience. Sea turtles were something I was just learning about and I was very excited to share my newfound knowledge with the visitors. And they kept thanking me for the work were we doing, they were so grateful for what we do.”

I asked Amy to sum up her short two weeks with us. Amy: “It’s really expensive to rehab sea turtles and to maintain this beautiful building, even with an all-volunteer staff. I didn’t realize how hard everybody works. All of the volunteers are beautiful people who deserve bragging rights for the work they do. There’s a lot of good in the world. I hope there are homes out there for Snooki and Canal so they can be in a more natural habitat. Any aquarium would be lucky to have them, and I would visit! This was one of the best experiences of my life. I want to come back next year – every year!”

Do we want her back — you betcha. And do we plan to offer a junior internship to more seniors like Amy? Ditto. Check our website later this year when we post more information on how you can be part of the program in 2020.

Our last week of daily tours (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. ends on Saturday, Sept. 14. The week of Sept. 15 we move to our fall schedule of two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 - 4 p.m. The tour takes about 45 minutes once inside the doors so plan your schedule accordingly as our turtles get pretty tired and are less active as the afternoon goes on. Even turtles need naps. Hope to see you as the weather cools and the lines aren’t quite as long. We’ll be open until mid-December before closing until spring 2020.

 

Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.