Kyle Orndorff is chief people officer – his real title – for the 630 employees of IMA Financial Group nationwide.
But on Saturday morning in Wichita, he was inside the chimpanzee exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, clambering up the side of one of the platforms, all the way to the top, to power-wash it. (The chimps were relaxing elsewhere.)
Everyone below held their breath for a report of what Orndorff saw at the top of the chimps’ world. But they kind of knew.
“There’s poop up here,” he hollered down lightheartedly, and inevitably.
There was some lettuce, too. Orndorff happily washed it all off, as the observers moved out of the way of the spray that started blowing down and across the chimp habitat.
They were among more than 70 IMA employees and family members who made the zoo their annual volunteer focus for 2015, making it one of the larger groups to volunteer at the zoo.
“We’d love to do this once a week,” Danielle Decker, who’s in charge of the apes, said of the power washing. “We do it once a year.”
Actually, algae, food and other debris get on the surfaces of the chimp exhibit, and the surfaces are scrubbed weekly with bleach, Decker said. But the keepers don’t want to use too much bleach around the animals, and power washing can do a deeper cleaning, she said.
What it took the 72 IMA volunteers to do in a few hours would have taken workers and regular volunteers months to get to, Decker said.
“We absolutely would not be able to do what we do without the extra help,” zookeeper Michelle Vicari said.
The IMA volunteers were just one of many groups helping out across Wichita on a sparkling Saturday. The Sunrise Rotary Club was sprucing up the accessible playground at Sedgwick County Park next door, area churches took part in the annual LOVE Wichita effort, and members from First United Methodist Church and First Nazarene Church painted the wrought-iron fences at Naftzger Park downtown.
“It’s fun with your colleagues to get out there in a different setting, with people you don’t normally work with day to day,” Julia Thead of IMA said of the volunteer day. She worked to clear bamboo and other plant debris out of the orangutan exhibit.
Dyan Thornton was among a group working behind the gorilla exhibit, clearing areas where zookeepers will try to grow vegetables for the animals to eat.
“That’s kind of cool, to know your end result instead of just cleaning up sticks,” Thornton said.
The animals were placed off exhibit while the volunteers worked inside enclosures. There was an insider’s, “Jurassic Park” feel to the work, as Thornton learned which door was to stay locked when she used the ladies room.
“Everything’s locked up there,” Thornton said.
The work was physical and hard.
“We’re tired,” Kim Tignor of IMA said, not to complain but to emphasize that they were making a difference.
Three volunteers cleaned beads used in the filtration tank for the otter pool, running the beads under water on a screen and then pouring them into a huge tub.
“Just helping out the otters, you know,” Kyle Johnston said with a twinkle in his eye and dirt on his hands.
Some workers rolled wheelbarrows behind the prairie exhibit, spring-cleaning the grounds, and others put together kits for lemur huts that will keep the animals out of the sun in the summer.
Once Orndorff was back down on earth and all cleaned up after his work in the chimpanzee exhibit, he reflected on his privileged perch earlier in the day.
“It is a little bit odd knowing that you’re in their habitat,” he said. “You’re always behind the glass as an observer at the zoo, and you never get the opportunity to be them.
“Being in their habitat and looking at the windows and looking at the people look at us, there was this, ‘This is how they feel.’
“Particularly when we were leaving – of course it was such a beautiful day – I couldn’t help but notice all the families enjoying the zoo. It was fun to be there cleaning it up and making it more beautiful for all to take in.
“It kind of made you feel good when you were leaving.”