This article of Stories from COVID-19 was written by the Natalia Radcliffe,
the Museum of Ventura County’s Summer 2020 Marketing Intern.
Photos by Jill Forman.

photo of a yard, in the foreground is a painted cardboard box that says "Meet the Head Zookeeper". On the box is a photo of a girl holding a stuffed tiger.

Though it has only been a few months, COVID-19 has shaped a different world. Schedules were uprooted and changed. Plans for summer had to be reevaluated. For some, a way of life had to be altered.

But, in spite of it all, people have risen up and decided to take advantage of this unique time to spread some laughs and smiles in their communities, reminding people they can still stop and smell the roses, inside or outside.

Summer Langille and her 8-year-old daughter Ellie are these kinds of people. A few months ago, they decided to organize a neighborhood zoo. No, there were no real animals at the zoo. This one was even better, limited only by the imagination.

The idea started when a friend of Langille’s in Orange County told her of a neighborhood zoo she had seen. After Langille’s daughter saw the pictures, she fell in love with the idea.

“She immediately asked if we could do one too,” said Langille. “I thought it would cheer her up since she’s been missing any and all social activities, and thought it was a safe choice of socializing at a distance.”

With their minds set, mother and daughter went to work. Langille notified her neighborhood’s Facebook group, receiving a positive response. She also drew a map, detailing the different zoos in the neighborhood. Her daughter Ellie made signs for her own zoo, explaining the different animals people would be seeing.

The zoos had a wide variety of themes and animals, including a life-sized tiger, an Australian animal section, and a reptile house, all courtesy of Langille’s daughter.

“Ellie had a ‘No petting zoo’ with dogs, goats and pig stuffies,” said Langille. “Others’ homes had teddy bears, an aquarium with underwater stuffies and narwhals… you name it, we all had it!”

photo of a hand drawn map titled "Ventura Lemon Grove Neighborhood Zoom Map"

For many people, COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine has not been easy. The neighborhood zoo was a way to bring people together. Well, as close as six feet.  It was also a reason for many to go outside and change up their day.

“I just thought it would create a bit of magic and fun during this weird Covid time,” said Langille. Creating and running the zoo certainly helped her and her daughter cope with the events of the past few months. “It was really fun, and I liked showing my stuffed animals to everyone! And seeing theirs,” said Ellie.

Langille appreciated the feeling of support.

“It was nice to get to see so many neighbors participate and also respect the social distancing rules while creating something special,” she said. It also has taught them the resilience people have within themselves, and the creative ideas that can flow from adversity.

“We also have a plethora of Little Free Library’s in our neighborhood, a home that has ‘the joke of the day’ board and another home that puts out free bouquets from her garden every Friday,” said Langille. “We definitely have a community who cares about each other and I love that.”

photo of yard with stuff animals arranged in cardboard boxes and a sign that reads "Ellie's Wild Zoo"

“One parent messaged me after the zoo and told me how much it meant to her two daughters to do the zoo,” said Langille. “It got them out of their funk, and she was grateful for our wonderful community.”

The neighborhood zoo not only helped Langille and her daughter, it also helped others who participated.

In fact, so many people seemed to need it that there were next to no challenges in organizing the zoo.

“Surprisingly, it was relatively easy,” said Langille. “I think a lot of families were needing that kind of activity at the time.”

Besides the zoo, Langille and her daughter have been doing their best to make the most of the current situation. As their family has a young baby in the house, they have been careful to stay home and limit contact with others outside of their immediate family.

“It’s definitely been wearing on us,” said Langille.

To lift their spirits, they like to go on walks around their neighborhood. They also enjoy creating chalk or window art to for those passing by to admire.

Currently, there are no plans in place for another neighborhood zoo, but Langille and her daughter would love to organize another one sometime in the future.

“I think it would be fun to try it again and get more of the neighborhood involved,” said Langille.

For those interested in creating their own neighborhood zoo, Langille has some tips.

“Let your neighbors know ahead of time so they can prepare,” she said. “Put a map together of the neighborhood and mark the homes that want to participate. This helped the people in cars find which streets were participating.”

Of course, it’s not all about the end result. It’s also about letting loose and finding joy while doing it.

“And enjoy yourselves,” said Langille. “It’s okay to be a kid and have fun!”

photo of a front yard with stuffed animals arranged on chairs. A sign says "The Friendly Zoo".
photo of a backyard with stuff animals arranged on chairs