March 12, 2020 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

High school can be an intimidating place, especially as a freshman. Learning where classes are located, finding a locker and learning the combination, and, of course, the “scary” seniors—intimidating, indifferent, insensitive.

Westside High School senior Dylan Folda wants to break that stereotype.

“My whole senior year, my philosophy is just trying to meet new people and be a friendly guy,” Folda said. “I’ve kind of just dedicated my senior year to trying to connect with other people and make their high school careers more enjoyable.”

One way he’s been working toward that goal is through his role in Westside’s student section, known as Red Shield. There are seven leaders in the group, and they are chosen by the previous year’s outgoing crew. In an email, Folda said all the leaders are seniors, and the next round of leaders is chosen from the juniors by the graduating class. “We keep an eye out for outgoing and loud juniors that are involved at WHS and essentially pass the torch to them when we graduate.”

As student leaders, their roles include organizing, working concession stands, and emceeing pep rallies. 

This year’s crew added the goal of branching out and attending more games, such as softball, baseball, and diving meets, to cheer on the Westside competitors in those sports. Folda said it was mostly the “big sports” before. 

“We’re trying to get to a bunch of other sports,” he said. “[We’re] just trying to show support to everyone else.”

Besides being a Red Shield leader, and participating in basketball and track himself, Folda has been a member of Henry Doorly Zoo’s youth volunteer program, known as Zoo Crew, since he was 15. He also takes classes through Zoo Academy. The academy provides students with knowledge and career explorations relating to life sciences through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences. 

Folda’s leadership abilities and genuine interest in helping others is evident in his volunteer work there.

The youth volunteer coordinator at Henry Doorly Zoo, Troy Solberg, said Folda stands out in the program as someone who works well with the younger volunteers. He said while some high schoolers can be awkward around them, Folda balances being an authority figure with being a mentor.

“Dylan’s funny,” Solberg said. “The little kids really look up to him…Boy, he just rolls up his sleeves and dives right in. I’m not sure who has more fun, Dylan or the kids he’s working with.”

Last May, Folda experienced one of his most memorable moments thus far—watching baby giraffe Zoe being born. “It was kind of gross, I’m not gonna lie,” he said. However, he added, “It was the coolest thing I’ve probably ever seen in my life. And the cutest thing.” 

This experience is just one of many perks of participating in the zoo academy, and Folda said he’s been talking to a lot of underclassmen to try and get them interested.

Solberg said some of the kids who become involved with the program have natural leadership ability, while others need help cultivating leadership skills.

“[Folda] seemed to be one that was a bit more innate,” Solberg said. “He’s [a] very outgoing, charismatic guy. I think it came much more easily to him to move into a leadership role.”

Folda said his original interest in volunteering with the Zoo Crew was simply to learn more about the animals. “But as I spent more time there, it really opened my eyes to the bigger picture of what conservation meant and what the zoo was doing to help all of these different plant and animal species and their habitats,” he said. Folda added that while he doesn’t think he will become a veterinarian, he does plan to explore related fields when he attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this fall.

In the meantime, he is currently working with the hoofstock crew at the zoo and shadowing at Rockbrook Animal Clinic.

“It’s just a cool opportunity to get good experience,” he said. Plus, one day “in like, 20 years or so,” he can tell his own kids, “I was there when that giraffe was born.”


This article was printed in the 2020 Summer Camp Edition of Family Guide. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dylan Folda and dog, at home