Mother’s Day Volunteer Spotlight: Gail and Dana Willoughby

In honor of Mother’s Day, we interviewed Gail and Dana, a dynamic mother and daughter volunteer duo at the National Aquarium!

Published May 14, 2017

Gail and Dana Willoughby have been volunteering at the National Aquarium since spring 2007! They volunteered together once as group leaders for the student summer program, but have mostly volunteered in different departments. volunteer-mother-and-daughter

Gail is currently an exhibit guide volunteer, and Dana volunteers in various roles, including animal programs assistant, rain forest aviculturist assistant and marine mammal assistant.

When they’re not volunteering, Gail and Dana enjoy activities involving animal care and training, which has become their shared passion.

Learn more about this mother and daughter duo, and their experiences volunteering at the National Aquarium!

How did you get started volunteering at the National Aquarium?

Gail: “Dana discovered early on that she wanted to pursue a degree in biology, with a focus on marine animals. When she heard about the [National Aquarium’s] student summer program through her high school, she decided to apply. I basically came along for the ride, or in our case, came along to provide the ride. Ten years have passed, and we are still here!”

What’s your favorite exhibit, event or place at the Aquarium?

Dana: “I can’t pick a single favorite exhibit, but my favorite events are the Animal Encounters. I love assisting with the encounters as part of my Animal Programs assistant duties, especially when I get to have a boa constrictor around my waist.”

Gail: “I have many favorite exhibits and favorite animals within the exhibits. I love the bump-out-window of Blacktip Reef and how it makes you feel like you’re a part of the exhibit. I love the moon jellies in Living Seashore, and helping guests experience a positive encounter with a jelly, although many are very apprehensive—and often terrified—to do so.
“When not volunteering, sitting in Dolphin Discovery, watching and learning about our dolphins, is where I enjoy spending time.”

Would your volunteer experience be different if you didn’t have your daughter to volunteer with?

Gail: “Although Dana and I volunteer in different departments, I always enjoy when our paths cross. … As a mom, it definitely gives me a sense of pride that she recognizes the importance of giving her time and talents.”

Would your volunteer experience be different if you didn’t have your mom to volunteer with?

Dana: “We don’t work in the same areas, so we don’t interact much—but it’s always nice to cross paths with my mom randomly, particularly if she’s passing by while I’m holding an animal.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer at the National Aquarium?

Gail: “I really enjoy the interactions with our guests. We are given the opportunity to meet and share our knowledge and stories with people from all over the world, in all age groups and backgrounds.”

Dana: “I keep coming back because I love the animals and the people who take care of them. They’re a fun bunch to work with—both the animals and humans—and doing so has been an incredible experience that has shaped much of who I am today.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the National Aquarium, visit!

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