A Magical Night of Lights with Otis and UI’s Junior Board!


Urban Initiatives Junior Board member Marley Bellwood writes about her experience with the Otis team at Zoo Lights!

On Friday, December 14th, the UI Junior Board had a field trip planned with Otis School to tour the lights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Junior Board members gathered at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, awaiting the kids’ arrival. Promptly at 4:00pm, the bus arrived and 22 smiling and energetic kids emerged. We split everyone up and decided to have a few Junior Board members per group of 6-8 kids. We entered the zoo prior to the light show starting to provide a true element of surprise as well as to tour the zoo facilities and see some of the animals before “bed.” Many of the kids commented on the fact that they had never been to a zoo before – to which we assured them that this is one of the nation’s best!

Naturally, our group’s first stop was the Lion House. They all wanted to see all of the beasts of the jungle…that is, until one actually emerged. As a “mature” adult, I have to say I was quite startled by the King of the Jungle myself. Creeping out from the shadows of the cave, you could only see his eyes before he pounced at the wire cage, prompting all of the Otis kids (ahem, and a few adults), to shriek with surprise. That only made him more aggressive and although we didn’t get a roar from Mr. Lion, we were all quite content moving down the Lion House to the tinier cats and more subdued tiger.

The kids were astounded with all of the animals and excitedly raced to get close to the glass and learn as much as they could up close. Our next stop was the Gorillas & Apes in the Ape House. That proved to be a great experience. Our first sight was a whole family of apes, each playing their own familial role for our little group. The kids were buzzing with excitement – some of which we had to subdue to keep to proper animal kingdom levels! 

By the time we exited the Ape House – it was miraculous! The lights had come on. There was a magnificent display of musically timed lighting appropriately in sync with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” truly a song for all ages. As the kids stood on the fence and sang along, it was truly a moment that could melt any chill right out of your body.

My partner for the day, Martha, exclaimed, “Marley, I just have to get down on my knees. I have to get down on my knees and say thank you, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen!” as she clung to my hand tight.

We then ventured into the “Tadpole Lounge” thanks to our friends at Lincoln Park Zoo – where the kids were each provided with a tasty hot chocolate or water along with a sugar cookie. We all sat at our tables and chatted while everyone finished their generous snack & cleaned up subsequently.

After that we went for a mad dash to the seals – which were pretty difficult to see by that time of the evening. Luckily, there was an ice carver nearby creating a beautiful seal sculpture, which seemed to satisfy.

Not long afterwards, the bus was due to arrive and we all had to say our goodbyes. Though it was just a bit over a 2 hour event, it was one of my most memorable and inspiring moments of this Holiday Season. The simple joy on these kids’ faces is enough to make you feel a happiness in your heart about a world that can at certain times feel helpless.

UI would like to thank Junior Board members that joined the Otis team for an evening filled with fun and memories that will last a lifetime.

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