No doubt about it, Jane Marino loves animals. "We often joke that she might become the neighborhood 'cat lady,'" her dad, Joseph Marino of Warren, said.
Instead of cats, this summer it will be more like humpback whales, toucans, gibbons and capuchins.
The 22-year-old zoology and Spanish student at The Ohio State University left Thursday on a four-week International Student Volunteers program in Ecuador. Afterward, she'll spend the rest of the summer working an internship at the American Primate Educational Sanctuary in Blacklick, Ohio.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle / Jane Marino
Jane Marino takes a turn as an educator to talk to visitors about one of the Walkabout Wildlife Park’s diamond pythons. The paint on her face, made from red dirt and water, symbolizes the traditional markings Aboriginal people wear.
"I will be in Ecuador from June 23 to July 22 helping rescue, rehabilitate and release wild animals that have been saved from the illegal pet trade industry at a place called the Sacha Yacu Wild Animal Rescue Centre," Marino said. "It is in a town called Sacha Yacu in the middle of the Amazon.
"I will also travel around Ecuador to learn about the local cultures and to assist the Ecuadoran economy by supporting and promoting eco-friendly tourism."
It is the third summer the 2007 John F. Kennedy High School graduate will be traveling with the International Student Volunteers program.
"My first trip was in the summer of 2009 to Costa Rica, where I volunteered with sea turtle conservation in a small town on the Caribbean coast called Gandoca.
"Last summer, I traveled to New Zealand to volunteer for the Department of Conservation in Te Kuiti and Waitomo doing tasks such as planting trees, weeding, trail maintenance and keeping out invasive plant and animal species.
"I then went from New Zealand to Australia to volunteer at the Walkabout Wildlife Park, where I built enclosures for their animals, maintained the park's trails and signs, and prepared diets for many of the animals.
"Finally, I traveled from Australia to Fiji to a place called Malolo Island, where we learned about the local culture and assisted a small village with the building and maintenance of a new school, and taught them how to farm for sustainable resources."
Along the way, she has met some interesting critters.
"I'm not sure that I have a favorite animal, but I did take a liking to the Australian wildlife," she said. "There was a particular swamp wallaby named Marshall who acted like a dog and followed us everywhere, and I definitely have a soft spot for swamp wallabies now.
"That said, big cats have always intrigued me. I think I would absolutely love to work with them. They are such majestic, beautiful creatures, and are seriously endangered today."
And yes, being named Jane and traveling to jungles does bring about the wisecracks.
"I get Tarzan (and Jane), Jane of the Jungle, GI Jane, plain Jane, Jane Goodall - although she is a hero of mine, so that one is more of a compliment," Marino said.
Marino still is deciding which avenue she will take.
"Lately, I have been interested in zookeeping as a possible career path," she said, noting she remembers telling people when she was about 3 that she would grow up to be a marine biologist or a veterinarian.
"I took a zoo science and management course at The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium this past winter, and I have such a deep respect for zoos and their mission now after everything that I have learned," she said.
"But I also hope to pursue a job with ISV as a recruiter and possibly a project leader in the future."
She credits her passion for both volunteer work and traveling to JFK High School in Warren.
"I was always involved in the Kiwanis Key Club volunteering at soup kitchens and holding fundraisers for the needy," Marino said. "I was given the opportunity to travel to Italy during the summer of 2005 with some students and faculty from JFK, and I believe that is what sparked my interest in getting out of Warren, Ohio, and seeing the world."
Parents Joe and Sue Marino are cheering her on despite worries of their daughter being so far away in less than ideal conditions.
"The opportunity to experience a different country and culture, as well as help change it for the better, is one that I am proud she is taking advantage of," Sue Marino said. "I am learning to let go of the worry side of it."
Joe Marino said, "On the one hand, as a parent, it sometimes terrifies me. Yet on the other, it warms my heart because I know she is in her element. She is most fulfilled when traveling, volunteering and working with animals.
"This career choice is absolutely perfect. Her older brother, Joe, is very well educated and traveled, and her older sister, Kim, runs an outdoor wilderness camp for troubled teens. All three have an appreciation and love for animals and nature."
Jane Marino said, "If you dream big enough, you will get where you want to be in life."
Helping comes with a cost
Volunteering isn't cheap.
"Finances were a big issue with me going on these trips," Jane Marino said of her work with the International Student Volunteers programs.
The fee for the basic four-week trip to Ecuador is $3,295, plus airfare. Side trips to other countries on the program are extra. This is Marino's third summer of volunteering.
"I had a lot of support from family, friends and my community, and I took on as many jobs and made as many sacrifices as I could in order to make these trips possible," she said.
"I had to cut back on a lot of luxuries I was used to, such as buying new clothes and going out to eat, but it was all worth it. I come back from these trips with experiences and international friends that I will have for the rest of my life, not to mention opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise."