During my California adventure, I spent most of my time back in my hometown of Simi Valley. After the bridal shower and bachelorette party, I didn't have as much on my plate so when I met up with my good friend and former editor, Kyle, for lunch I asked if the newspaper was in need of any freelancers. He thought I was joking at first, saying "Don't tease!" but I told him that I could use the money, something to do and fresh clips. So he put me to work! My first story was more newsy, covering a forum that aimed to bolster awareness of bullying and sexual harassment in local schools and what policies the district has in place to prevent and address such issues. It was an interesting forum but, to be honest, my favorite part was running into my old AP U.S. History teacher, who was the chair of the event. She said she remembered me (though I think teachers feel like they have to say that) and she was so proud of the work I was doing. While working as the lead reporter for the Simi Valley Acorn for five years, I often ran into and even interviewed former teachers, and it was always a sort of surreal, the-tables-have-turned experience.
I still have one more story to finish up for the paper, about bird banding of all things, but today I wanted to share the second story I wrote because it truly moved me and reminded me why I love journalism. My passion is telling other people's stories, particularly heartwarming and emotional ones that inspire. Sometimes these feature stories are the hardest for me to write, simply because I strive so desperately to tell the story correctly, truthfully, authentically, and to move the reader the way it moved me.
This was my assignment: Jenna, a visually-impaired Simi Valley high school student, was going to get a special, one-of-a-kind tour of the Los Angeles Zoo that would allow her to "see" some of the wildlife through touch. I was to accompany her on her tour and write about her experience at the zoo. I'll break here, so if you'd like to follow Jenna along on her day at the zoo, you can read the story below...
(Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers)
MEET-AND-GREET—Lynne Getz, a docent at the L.A. Zoo, helps Jenna Barry, a Royal High School sophomore, touch a boa snake at the zoo on March 12. Jenna, who is blind, was given a personal, hands-on tour.
Teen ‘sees’ zoo animals with her hands
Like clockwork, at 9:30 on a beautiful Southern California morning, a stream of yellow school buses pulled up outside the Children’s Discovery Center at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens last week.
Out of each poured a gaggle of eager kids whose raucous voices and laughter revealed their excitement for a day at the zoo.
Among the students filling the sidewalk was Royal High School sophomore Jenna Barry, along with about 10 of her classmates.
While they lined up with the rest of the students for their guided tours, Jenna nervously waited to embark on her own excursion—one unlike any other zoo guest experiences.
ROUGH ANTLERS—Jenna Barry and Lynne Getz examine a set of
antlers during a tour of the L.A. Zoo. Because Jenna is blind, she
received a personal, hands-on tour, learning about animals through touch.
TALL LEG—Lynne Getz, left, guides Jenna
Barry's hands up an elephant leg bone. The
L.A. Zoo offers docent-led tours to visitors
with special needs.
Jenna is such a sweet and incredibly courageous young woman and it was a pleasure to meet her. Walking around the zoo, I couldn't help but notice all the beauty around us. It was a warm, sunshine-filled Southern California day. In addition to all the wildlife housed at the zoo, the property, also a botanical garden, is strewn with lush and colorful plantings and flowers. There was so much to see and Jenna couldn't see it. This fact struck me suddenly while strolling the pathway with her and my jaw clenched as I felt my eyes begin to water. I swallowed that emotion but let the feeling of gratitude sink in. Spending the afternoon with someone who doesn't have their sight, but continues to charge forward through life with grace, strength and optimism really puts things into perspective.
Covering Jenna's day at the zoo truly awakened my soul in more ways than one. It reminded me what my calling is, what I am meant to do: to share people's stories. I have so many interests and passions and different endeavors that I'd like to pursue, but I can't ignore how I feel when I go into journalist mode, when I sit for hours to craft the perfect story, when I see my writing in print. My joy is heightened when the story is appreciated by those who read it, and especially by those who it was written about. The week after the story was published, I received a thank you note, in brail, from Jenna. I will cherish it and my experience—like many of the experiences I've had as a journalist—forever.
As always, thank you for reading!