Laughter, volunteering and a love of animals have been the key ingredients to 75-year-old Betty Sobel and 78-year-old Sunny Sjaarda’s long-lasting friendship.

The two volunteer at John Ball Zoo and participate in the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital program through Child Life, which allows them to visit on the first Wednesday of every month with two to three different animals.

Sobel and Sjaarda recently visited the children with an African pygmy hedgehog and a dove. Smiles and giggles spread throughout the floors as the children were able to meet and pet the animals.

“It has usually just been the two of us doing this for years,” Sobel said. “That time went by quickly though, didn’t it?”

“Not if you look in the mirror,” joked Sjaarda. She has volunteered at the zoo for 39 years and Sobel has contributed 27 years.

The program started in 1985. Sjaarda explains that out of all of the programs offered at the zoo, this one is the “most meaningful.”

Savannah Webster, a 5-year-old from Tustin who is being treated for kidney failure, lit up with excitement when she saw the dove.

“I have a birdie, too,” Savannah said, pulling out a pink toy bird and placing it next to the dove that Sjaarda held.

“It’s so exciting when you get children that know something about animals,” Sobel said. “We could use them to go around from room to room to talk about the animals.”

Sjaarda and Sobel spent the afternoon visiting with the children, laughing with them and sharing their knowledge about the animals.

“We love it,” Sobel said.