“It’s like music to my ears,” says Beth Stephens, as she describes the sights and sounds of her volunteerism at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.
“The sea lions and elephant seal pups have vocalizations,” says Beth. “They’re so wonderful, so smart and they have such interesting personalities. The elephant seal pups have these big eyes you fall in love with, and their whiskers and face.”
As a volunteer who supports larger animals at the center such as sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals, Beth’s 13 years of service goes beyond her appreciation for the animals themselves, she says.
“Through the work, I’ve seen how our environment affects these animals. All the trash and debris we put into the ocean [causes] entanglement and illnesses. We know humans are impacting the wellbeing [of animals], and what affects them affects us. It’s very important to have ocean health for us to survive along with marine mammals. When I see a sick sea lion or elephant seal pup, I understand how that affects us. Helping to nourish them helps us to thrive as well.”
Beth says the most important part of her service is seeing an animal released healthy into the wild, and knowing she had a role in making that happen. A San Francisco resident who has had a lifelong passion for the ocean, Beth cares for sick or in need marine mammals, preparing food and medicine for the animals, cleaning the pens, scrubbing the pools, even tube feeding elephant seal babies when they are underweight, eventually teaching them how to dive for fish themselves. According to Beth, her volunteerism helps to promote progress for both marine mammals and humankind.
“Our seasonal youth crew volunteers help during pup season. We have volunteers aged 15-18. It’s really cool to see them come to the center [and see] the joy on their faces. [After volunteering with the center]. they go to college, and next thing you know, they’re becoming marine biologists because of what they learned at the center. It gives me joy to watch them grow and become these amazing adults.”
As the co-lead for her employer’s Living Green Network chapter in San Francisco, Beth’s volunteerism is heralded for how she’s inspired others, change she says is gratifying.
“My peers at work come up to me and say they want to volunteer, or do beach cleanups. Through my actions, they’re inspired to go out there and do volunteer work. It really validates my passion for volunteerism. We’re not perfect, we can all learn just to inspire one person to act. Those little steps make a huge impact on our environment. It feels good to create that rippling effect and know I’m influencing others to do positive things for our environment.”
Beth’s mother, Lily Aquino, who drives her daughter to the Marine Mammal Center and has witnessed much of her important work, calls Beth’s inspiration extraordinary.
“The animals are benefitting, and [that] brings her a lot of joy,” says Lily, “but [her] biggest impact has been on people around her. Just by her example, a lot of people have become aware of compassion towards animals and people and that has inspired them to do volunteer work. They learn by just watching her. It’s quite extraordinary.”
In addition to her volunteerism at the center, Beth also volunteers with Shark Stewards, doing monthly beach cleanups and also working with youth to help them learn and appreciate the marine ecosystem. As she volunteers to create a healthier world, Beth urges others to show compassion and kindness.
“Especially with the pandemic, a lot of people are suffering, there’s been a lot of challenges. It’s really important to give back. It’s a known fact that having a sense of purpose helps with your longevity. People who live to be 100 and up, they have a sense of purpose, that’s what keeps them going. The world needs more kindness. We all need to do our part to be kind and help someone.”
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