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August 12, 2005

Oakland Zoo teen volunteer considered deaf pioneer

From: Daily Review Online, CA - Aug 12, 2005

Inside Bay Area

OAKLAND — When Brock is thirsty, he squawks "water."

His verbal communication skills are a rare commodity at the Oakland Zoo, but they only get the green parrot so far with Liz Jarashow, a Fremont student who volunteers there on Saturdays.

Jarashow, 17, is deaf. She'd be more impressed if Brock knew the American Sign Language symbol for water.

The lanky Jarashow visits the zoo once a week, preparing food for chinchillas and turtles, placing fresh boughs in cages and holding the animals. She works in the education department, a building tucked behind the new children's zoo, where animals live between their Oakland ZooMobile visits to schools and birthday parties.

Although Jarashow is working hard at improving her communication with animals such as the zoo's tenrec, a spiky creature from Madagascar that resembles a miniature hedgehog, communicating with people has been her biggest challenge. She is believed to be the first deaf person to work at the zoo, so she's making up the rules as she goes along.

She and Chris Allen, an animal manager who works closely with her, communicate through their body language or notes scribbled on paper. Allen shows her how to handle the animals, leading by example.

"I have never, ever worked with anybody like this," Allen said on a recent Saturday. "Given the fact that she can't hear has nothing to do with her ability to do the job."

Jarashow's journey to the zoo began at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, where she is a junior. She turned up in Gene Harris' service learning class last year and started spending time at the school's farm and aviary. She became a docent, leading tours for younger students. Now she has her own aviary key so she can care for the birds during the summer.

Harris said she has a gift for working with animals.

"She's very slow and calm. She comes into their presence and animals look and they trust," he said. "Very few (people) have this aura about them. ... Hopefully, they become our professionals with animals."

Harris invited Jarashow to a few open houses at the zoo and she applied to volunteer. It initially was meant to last for the summer, but she plans to stay on during the school year.

Although the shy teen doesn't necessarily see herself as a deaf pioneer, Harris said it's an appropriate title. "(When) the door opens for a deaf individual to come into work, that's a big step," he said. "That door then can stay open if Liz is successful."

Jarashow isn't sure she'll work in zoos forever.

She plans to go to college, hoping to follow her older brothers to Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hearing students in Washington, D.C. Her dream job is to work as a photojournalist.

But, she added, if it works out, she wants to spend time in the field and the classroom.

She wants to educate children about the environment and the world.

before they head out into it themselves.

© 2005 ANG Newspapers