MACON -- Growing up, Hannah Vines has rescued everything from snakes and spiders to an opossum.
So it was little surprise to her family when Hannah, 14, wanted to volunteer at the Museum of Arts and Sciences mini-zoo.
The Warner Robins resident has spent every Friday for nearly two years helping with the animals, and her dedication is one of the reasons she was chosen Teen Volunteer of the Year by the Middle Georgia chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Hannah was vacationing with her family in Florida when she heard the news. There was a tearful celebration.
It means a lot for her to be recognized for that, said her mother, Christine Vines.
The eighth-grader, who attends Georgia Cyber Academy, has been an asset to the zoo animals, said Sharron Wilhelm, the museums animal curator.
She has a very special connection with animals, Wilhelm said.
Hannahs love of animals began when she was small. Her mother remembers her as a young girl catching lizards and trying to keep them.
She is fascinated with snakes and just recently went to Reptile World Serpentarium in Florida.
I love the feel of the snakes, Hannah said.
At the museum, she also helps handle the birds, including Harley, a rescued cockatiel, and understands each animal has a different personality.
Wilhelm said one of the reasons she nominated Hannah was because of her work ethic.
Hannah definitely sets the bar for the other children who volunteer at the museum, said Wilhelm.
This was only part of the reason she was chosen for the recognition.
Julie Wilkerson, president of the local chapter, said members were impressed with the fact that Hannah credited her volunteerism with helping her believe in herself and overcome adversity.
It is really this quality that made her stand out, and we hope she will be an inspiration to others, Wilkerson said.
Hannah was adopted from a Russian orphanage when she was 2. She has had 13 surgeries so far to correct a cleft lip.
Through the help of her adoptive parents, Hannah has thrived.
Her opossum, which she rescued from her parents car engine when it was a baby, has also blossomed. Toe Mater Sandwich, called Mater, was brought to the museum and is a permanent member.
When she grows up, Hannah would like to become a zoologist and work at a zoo. She is planning to apply for a summer position with Zoo Atlanta next year.
The AFP awarded Hannah and a charity of her choice $100 each.
Hannah chose the museum as her charity and donated her share to the mini-zoo as well.
She hopes the money can be used to build a permanent outdoor space for some of the animals, including Mater.
Her mother said Hannahs love of animals is a gift and supports all the endeavors her daughter wants to be involved with.
Theres a special purpose for her, Christine Vines said.