Southsider Voice correspondent
Every Thursday morning, Tonya West dresses in khaki, the designated uniform for volunteers at the Indianapolis Zoo. Then she and her mom, Kathy West, leave the family’s Southside home and drive north to clean cages in five aviaries for hundreds of exotic birds.
“The parrots are such a joy,” Kathy West said with a laugh. “The goofier you are, the goofier the birds get.”
Born with Down syndrome, Tonya, 25, had initially been employed in the community.
When that experience didn’t work out for her, volunteering was the next best thing, not only to keep Tonya busy with constructive activities but to also keep her self-esteem at a healthy level.
“Volunteering teaches Tonya responsibility,” said West. “She knows the routine. She doesn’t need for me to remind her. And she takes her job seriously.”
Four years ago when she and Tonya started volunteering, they worked their way up from sweeping lots of common areas to what they now do – spending time with rare birds in the Encounters section of the zoo.
On other days of the week, Tonya is busy getting consistent exercise, learning new skills, being competitive and social too, as she participates in various sports opportunities related to Special Olympics.
“Bowling just ended and now she is playing basketball,” West said. “Last summer we had four sports going. But of all the sports Tonya has tried, I think she likes volleyball the best. I’m not sure though if she likes it for the sport or for the group of friends.”