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Offering big thanks to some of our youngest supporters

Posted by Stephen Reed and Meghan Sawyer, Communications

This has been a year of many challenges and changes—and for some that also has meant some hardship, separation and even loss. Still, there is much to be thankful for. We have been inspired by kids from our community who have found creative and thoughtful ways to safely reach out with kindness, spread joy and show they care for animals and for people. 

Mia and her friends have a safe, socially-distanced meet-up at the zoo! Photo: Courtesy of Mia's family.

Nine-year-old Mia really likes the animals and the people at Woodland Park Zoo—and before the pandemic, she used to go there on a bus to meet up with and visit friends. In the spring, when quarantine started, Mia was only able to see classmates and teammates on video screens. 

When they were unable to visit in person, Mia left animal-inspired care packages for her friends with t-shirts and coloring sheets. Photo: Courtesy of Mia's family

As a way to reach out and get to know her soccer teammates better she decided to drop off packages at their houses containing a zoo t-shirt and a coloring page for our baby Western lowland gorilla Kitoko and his mom Uzumma. “When they found it at their door they were really excited,” said Mia. “I even saw a few of them wearing it during [virtual] soccer practices.” 

Coloring sheets for baby Western lowland gorilla Kitoko's wish book. Photo: Courtesy of Mia's family

Once Woodland Park Zoo safely reopened in July, with new protocols to keep everyone safe, Mia organized a small, socially-distanced zoo meet-up of her 4th grade classmates. Mia’s mom tells us that it was the first chance for some of these kids to meet each other in person. Mia said, “It was good to see them because I could see their faces not on a screen! There was no talking to them and realizing that they can’t hear me because I’m muted. You got to talk to them without a screen.”  Way to go, Mia! 

Earlier this year 11-year-old Olin attended a virtual presentation by volunteer and friend of the zoo, Dr. Rob Liddell, about Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program. The presentation discussed the zoo’s work to save Matschie’s tree kangaroos (a species native to Papua New Guinea) and some of the veterinary medical procedures Dr. Rob has taken part in to keep Woodland Park Zoo’s animals happy and healthy. 

Olin created a video and inspired his classmates to donate to Woodland Park Zoo's Relief Fund. Photo: Courtesy of Olin's family

“I wanted to help the zoo because it was locked down and nobody could go there and I was thinking how can the animals be taken care of”, said Olin. “I saw the Relief Fund and then said, ‘Oh great! I can help this way!’”. So Olin got to work. He created a video about tree kangaroos, the Woodland Park Zoo Relief Fund, the zoo’s conservation program, and Zoo Doo – the zoo’s composting program. Then he shared it with his classmates to educate and inspire them. “I asked them to please help and just donate any amount of money to the zoo,” said Olin. Then he donated all the money he raised to the zoo.

Olin wants to be a volunteer at the zoo when he’s old enough ...and we can’t wait to have him continue his work to help Woodland Park Zoo!

Eleven-year-old River loves visiting Woodland Park Zoo, and he loves animals. In fact, when he heard that the zoo needed donations to its Relief Fund to help take care of its animals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, River knew just what to do… and it was quite a “hair-raising” solution. 

River created his own fun and "hair-raising" fundraiser for Woodland Park Zoo! Photo: Courtesy of River's family 

You see, River’s dad Mike had recently re-discovered the Flowbee. It’s a gadget made in the ‘80s that is essentially a vacuum attachment that cuts hair. Mike had already done a fundraiser of his own using the Flowbee, and now it was River’s turn.

Flowbee in tow, River and his family took to Facebook and GoFundMe with their mission: Raise money for the zoo’s animals in exchange for an epic Flowbee haircut. Thanks to River’s transformed locks and his bravery, he was able to raise $500 for Woodland Park Zoo. Thanks, River! 

What could a world-renowned conservation scientist and a Seattle fourth-grader possibly have in common? Turns out, a lot more than you’d think. Lisa Dabek, PhD, and Alessandra Sweeney struck up a remarkable friendship this spring after Alessandra visited the zoo to interview Dr. Dabek for a school project on Matschie’s tree kangaroos. That happens to be the species that Dr. Dabek specializes in as Woodland Park Zoo’s Senior Conservation Scientist and Director of the Papua New Guinea Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.

Alessandra meets with Dr. Lisa Dabek in person (pre-pandemic) and gets to meet one of our Matschie's tree kangaroos up close! Photo: Courtesy of Alessandra's family. 

The Sweeneys sent Dabek a message (prior to the pandemic) and soon after, Alessandra and her mom made the trip to the zoo to meet with Dabek in her office. Dabek even took Alessandra to meet some of the zoo’s tree kangaroos in person – a dream come true for this budding scientist!

Alessandra and Dr. Dabek have a virtual reunion so that the fourth-grader can share her school project!

A few short weeks later, schools around the state closed down as COVID-19 spread, but Alessandra continued to learn at home and finished her school project. Then, thanks to technology, Alessandra was able to share it with Dabek via a virtual reunion on Microsoft Teams … and the scientist and young animal-lover were able to share their experience of life and learning even amid an epidemic.

Great job, Alessandra!

Lauren and Cameron are 15-year-old twins who built beds made of fire hoses for our behind-the-scenes snow leopard dens. The twins have grown up going to Woodland Park Zoo. “We love the zoo. We have gone so many times. Now as teenagers, we’re excited to be able to give back and help the zoo,” said Lauren. “We want to help animals and make sure they have a nice, good home so they can have the best life possible,” added Cameron. 

Lauren and Cameron's driveway became a workshop for their project. Photo: Courtesy of Lauren and Cameron's family.

Working together with their family, friends, and Scouting Troops (all while following strict Covid safety protocols) Cameron and Lauren set to work in their long driveway which allowed for safe social distancing. Using materials from firehoses requires some really specific safety protocols above and beyond the pandemic measures they were already taking, so the twins and their teams all used gloves and masks while safely handling the power tools needed to get the job done. Overall, this project had them working across multiple days, in shifts for 4 to 6 hours at a time.

the twins and their teams all used gloves and masks while safely handling the power tools needed to get the job done. Photo: Courtesy of Lauren and Cameron's family.

Both teens are using this experience to apply toward their toward Scouting goals. Lauren is earning her Gold Award – the highest achievement in the Girl Scouts. And Cameron is including this effort as part of his application to become Eagle Scout. Thanks to these twins, Woodland Park Zoo’s snow leopard family will have comfortable and durable beds for a long time to come. 

Cameron and Lauren are both accomplished Scouts. We are proud of them and thankful for their efforts. Photo: Courtesy of Cameron and Lauren's family.

Is there a young person in your life who has inspired you and others to help save animals and protect the environment? Please tell us about them! Who knows, we may share their story just like Mia, Olin and River’s.  E-mail with the subject line "inspiring kid."