When Ben Lovvoll, 15, goes on voyages – such as visiting his grandparents in Rhode Island last summer — he delights in his random sightings of a large Eastern box turtle, snakes, and other wildlife.
He often steps outside of his Lawrenceville home and visits parks and marshy areas to see what creatures he might encounter, frequently taking pictures. His passion for wildlife, and especially turtles and snakes, is one of the reasons he decided to volunteer in Critter Care at the Watershed Center where seeing reptiles and other wildlife is a sure thing.
When the pandemic hit, however, all of the volunteer work was cancelled and the Watershed Center was closed. But a few weeks later, Watershed Educator Samantha Bernstein, who supervises the Critter Care volunteers, reached out to him with a request for one volunteer who could help for some additional hours during the summer.
Ben accepted and eagerly increased his volunteering from once a week to helping out three times a week for the entire summer. On some days, it was just Ben and a few staff, and he shouldered all of the responsibility for feeding and caring for the residential animals.
“I saw Ben grow astronomical amounts this summer, taking on big responsibilities with Critter Care,” said the Watershed’s Education Director Jeff Hoagland. “We are so grateful!”
Ben said he always has enjoyed doing hands-on activities and hopes for a future career in herpetology.
“I would like to get a job doing field work with reptiles and amphibians. I thought this experience could be good for applications and resumes, as well as the experience of learning so much about the animals,” Ben said. “This volunteer work is connected to my main interests and what I want to do in life.”
He said he was eager to take on the increased responsibilities during the pandemic, knowing he could always text Samantha or another Watershed staffer if something unusual arose.
“I was excited to do some more things, and especially feeding the snakes. That was pretty cool. It was stressful at times, but I could handle it even with the classwork involved with my Extended School Year,” Ben said. “At some points, it did feel like a bit much. But I really enjoyed working with the animals and it was definitely a positive thing to go and help a bit more.”
An aspect of the volunteer work that Ben enjoys the most is prepping the food for the turtles. The turtles know when food is coming and, like many of us, express eagerness.
“The best is definitely working with the animals. Feeding the turtles is great; it’s a lot of fun to chop up the vegetables and put them in the tub. I think turtles are adorable and the ones there have a lot of personalities.”
One challenge he faced was cleaning the turtle tank — until he learned the trick of holding the watering hose upright so the floors didn’t get wet and require mopping. “Until I got used to that, I ended up with some pretty big spills.”
Ben credits his interest in reptiles to taking care of his science teacher’s Ball Python one summer when she was traveling, and from there his passion for reptiles grew.
His work was immensely helpful, according to the Watershed staff, and Ben was the right choice for helping out during the pandemic. Now that his school has resumed, he has gone back to his weekly volunteer stints.
“From the moment I met Ben, I knew that he would be a great asset to the Critter Care team. His clear love and dedication to reptiles shines through in everything he does,” Samantha said. “Ben’s help this summer was invaluable. I couldn’t have done it without him!”