Docents are trained volunteers who support the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI). They help us conduct our Chimposium workshops for K-12 students, CWU classes, and the general public. Docents are ambassadors for Washoe’s family who present information relating to this family of chimpanzees, information on chimpanzees in general, and the plight faced by both captive and free-living chimpanzees.
What is a Chimposium?
“Chimposium” is a play on words, combining chimpanzee and symposium. CHCI believes that education is one of the most effective ways to help chimpanzees, and therefore we offer these one-hour educational workshops to the public. The Chimposium experience is neither a “show” nor a “tour” and the CHCI is not a zoo. CHCI is a sanctuary for three adult chimpanzees who communicate with humans and each other by using the signs of American Sign Language (ASL), as well as natural chimpanzee vocalizations and gestures. The mission of CHCI is to protect and care for these chimpanzees, educate the public on the endangered status of free-living chimpanzees, help improve the lives of all captive chimpanzees through ongoing, non-invasive research, and serve as a humane research facility for students. CHCI is a home and sanctuary for Washoe’s family and is never opened for entertainment purposes.
Why would I want to be a docent?
Docents directly contribute to the well-being of this family of chimpanzees. With a commitment of time and talent, docents are the backbone of the Chimposium program. Chimposiums and other outreach programs account for approximately 75% of the Institute’s operating budget. CHCI is a primarily self-supporting division of Central Washington University, and the revenue from our outreach programs directly benefit the chimpanzees who live here.
Being a docent is also a great way to learn about chimpanzees and the unique history and research associated with the family of chimpanzees at CHCI. It is also an excellent opportunity to build your resume with community service.
What does a docent do?
Docents work with Liaisons to conduct our Chimposiums. All docents act as greeters and gift shop attendants, and some are invited to be classroom presenters and guides during observations of the chimpanzees.
Is being a docent a good fit for you?
The CHCI welcomes volunteers and offers a unique opportunity for service. There are, however, specific requirements, skills, knowledge, and commitments for docents of this program. The information following can help you decide if becoming a docent works with your interest and availability.
How much time is required?
Chimposiums are held regularly, March through November, on Saturday mornings at 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. The minimum requirement for involvement in the program is for docents to commit to two weekend Chimposium shifts per month. One weekend shift is one weekend day (either Saturday or Sunday) and includes 2 Chimposium times scheduled during that same day.
You can sign up for one whole weekend (one Saturday and one Sunday) or two Saturdays, two Sundays, or one Saturday and one Sunday on different weekends. On the day you have signed up you will arrive 30 minutes before the start of the first Chimposium, will stay through both Chimposium times, and should expect to leave no more than 30 minutes after the end of the second Chimposium.
There may also be additional training sessions as well as informational or social meetings scheduled for the docent community. These are generally scheduled for evenings or during weekends. We expect docents to participate in these functions as much as is possible in order to continue their education and foster a supportive docent network.
What are some of the responsibilities of a docent?
Docents should be able to clearly communicate and connect with visitors from diverse backgrounds and facilitate group experiences for both small and large groups. Docents will be working with children, students, adults, and seniors and should be able to tailor the experience to the guests at hand.
Docents are expected to be professional, well prepared, responsible, and to follow the rules and protocols of CHCI. Docents are expected to work cooperatively under the guidance of any of the following individuals: supervising permanent employees, Volunteer Docent Leaders, Graduate Assistants, Liaisons, or the Docent Coordinator.
Is training required?
Our goal at CHCI is to educate the public about the chimpanzees living at this sanctuary and the plight of chimpanzees in general. Docents are expected to complete a training program that includes CHCI general knowledge, chimpanzee identification, chimpanzee taxonomy, and chimpanzee sign identification. Docents invited to become presenters and observer guides are also required to give a mock Chimposium to the liaison staff before presenting to the public. Training is an ongoing process and all docents are encouraged to attend any scheduled training sessions.
How do I become a docent?
First, you will need to fill out the attached application form and return it to CHCI. Second, you will need to schedule an interview to discuss the program and our expectations, to review your application, and to fill out a background check. Third, you must be accepted and invited to participate in the program by the CHCI Docent Coordinator.
How do you select docents for the program?
The Docent Coordinator will review your application and set up an interview. Docent candidates are selected based on the level of interest and experience as evidenced on their application, based on their qualifications and willingness to make a serious commitment to the mission of the CHCI, and based on the needs of the CHCI docent program.
You can also download and print a PDF version of the application, fill it out, and return it to CHCI.