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12 Who Care: Chris Conner encourages new experiences at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

“He actually does genuinely care about us and our success and our future,” said 16-year-old David Washington.

Chris Conner lives outside the comfort zone and he wants everyone to meet him there.

And he knows snakes, for so many, is the line of discomfort.

“She’s a hog island boa from south America,” he said, describing the snake he’s showing off at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

It’s a tool of his for the public and his young stewards in the Jax Zoo WILD Program.

“I didn’t want to go outside of what I already knew,” said 16-year-old David Washington. “He was the one who was pushing me to go outside what I knew.”

Washington says it’s this program, and Conner specifically, that has gotten him try something he never would.

“He actually does genuinely care about us and our success and our future,” Washington said.

It’s a program designed to give culturally diverse teens in Jacksonville innovative leadership and employment opportunities.

And at just 33 years old, Conner is the walking image of the phrase “wise beyond his years.”

“Now I can help kids that look like me, that talk like me that walk like me, that want to learn like me,” he said.

He even practices what he preaches, pushing his own limits.

He gives back in other life-changing ways with sacrifice.

“If you’re going to foster a newborn be ready for sleepless nights, I’m working off two hours sleep," he said.

The young man is a foster father.

“Everyone was asking what can I help you with what can I send you? Sleep… just send me sleep," he said.

But you’d never know he was sleep-deprived. He says he stays energized by the constant lights that keep coming on in the youth he’s teaching.

“This for me is like a dream," he said. "I get to work with the teenagers, the public and the animals. It’s a win-win.”

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