John Ball Zoo announces increased accessibility through evolved JUMP program

Community News |Mar 9, 2020|3 min read

John Ball Zoo LogoJohn Ball Zoo announces that beginning with the upcoming 2020 season they are evolving their long-standing JUMP program to provide even greater accessibility thanks to the generous support from sponsors. Beginning on their opening day Friday, April 3rd, John Ball Zoo will offer free admission to anyone who possess a MI Bridges and WIC Cards in the State of Michigan, and up to nine people in the same household.

“We are excited to announce this important evolution to the JUMP program and thankful to the sponsors who help make it happen,” said Mike Lomonaco, John Ball Zoo Chief Development and Community Engagement Officer. “John Ball Zoo is committed to inspiring every guest to be active participants in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience and cultivate a positive connection to wildlife and wild places and seek to include all members of our community regardless of economic status or other limiting factors.”

To help ensure changes to the JUMP program were responsive to the communities it serves, the zoo engaged with nineteen nonprofits and cultural organizations throughout West Michigan, along with thirty-seven other AZA-accredited organizations, to identify opportunities for improvement with our JUMP program.

Lomonaco added, “Through this work, we learned that there were many unintended barriers to providing accessibility including; language and culture, homelessness, changes to home environments through a school year, and increasing costs. In addition, families without children, those who are not yet school aged, and senior citizens were not fully addressed within the previous JUMP program model.”

The JUMP program was the brainchild of Ruth Jones, a former John Ball Zoo board member and principal for Grand Rapids Public Schools. The program was founded in an effort to make the Zoo accessible to families regardless of income. All while encouraging an enriching, educational, and cultural experience.

The JUMP program helps remove financial barriers families may face by providing free admission to John Ball Zoo, opportunities for meaningful family experiences, unstructured play and fun, and interactive learning with a hope to seed a life-long love for nature and wildlife.

JUMP has gone through several iterations since it started in 1998. Initially it focused on providing free admission to families of school-aged children in Kent County who qualified for the Free and Reduced Federal Lunch Program.

From there, the program expanded to Ottawa and Allegan counties through the support of donors in those regions. During this time, the distribution of JUMP was primarily done by providing passes directly to schools in these counties which were then disbursed to qualifying children and families. At the height of this model, JBZ saw more than 48,000 individuals attend for free.
In 2017-18, the JUMP program further evolved by streaming the distribution of JUMP passes to those who qualified. Passes were mailed to homes in Kent, Ottawa and Allegan counties of qualifying families.

In today’s numbers, a family of four whose household income is $33,000 per year or less qualifies for MI Bridges benefits. “This next evolution of the JUMP program is a significant step toward a world where anyone who chooses to can experience the joy, magic, and education that comes from visiting John Ball Zoo and fulfilling the vision of JUMP founder Ruth Jones,” concluded Lomonaco.