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How a Pencil Can Save a Pelican

Schools and students find creative ways to help the Gulf Coast

By Cindy Long

When she heard about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 11-year-old Olivia Bouler from Long Island, New York, burst into tears.

After many vacations spent  fishing and bird watching along the Gulf coast with her cousins and grandparents who live in Louisiana and Alabama, Olivia decided she'd like to one day become an orinthologist.  So when she saw the images of helpless, oil soaked pelicans, she knew had to do something to help. First, she picked up her drawing pencils. Then she sent a letter to the Audubon Society.

Olivia's drawing of a brown pelican.

“I have an idea,” she wrote. “I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and give the profits to your organization.” She included a drawing of a cardinal as a sample, proving that she was not just a decent drawer, but a skilled young artist.

The Audubon Society readily agreed, asking that she donate her bird drawings to those who donated to the wildlife recovery efforts. She drew herons, pelicans, and other species native to the Gulf. But a girl can only draw so many birds without her schoolwork suffering, so when she hit her limit of 500 original bird drawings, the Audubon Society began providing limited edition print versions. So far, she’s raised more than $110,000 for the organization’s cleanup efforts.

Support Spilleth Over

Since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and thick, brown oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s been an outpouring of support and concern for the people and wildlife living along the coast.

Like Olivia Bouler, many are students. And like Tara Stimac from Grand Blanc, Michigan, many are educators.

Stimac is a first-grade teacher at Brendel Elementary School. Her young students were upset by stories of birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and other wildlife struggling to survive the coating of oil. They wanted to help, but didn’t know how, so Stimac came up with a plan that would include the whole school.

A Family “Hair” Affair

Stimac’s brother, who is in the Army and stationed in Florida, began volunteering with an organization called Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based charity that collects human and animal hair to stuff into nylon “booms” that absorb oil and help keep it from wildlife habitats.

Stimac’s mom Vicki, a hairdresser, had also heard about Matter of Trust and started collecting hair from her salon and others from the Grand Blanc area to send to the organization.

Turns out they’re part of a nationwide movement — as of early May, hair salons and groomers had sent 400,000 pounds of hair and fur to the Matter of Trust’s 15 collection sites.

“I wanted to help, too,” says Stimac. So she decided to transform her school’s gym into a salon for an entire day so students and staff could donate their hair to the cause.

Her students and their third-grade partners came up with the “Save the Sea” theme, and decorated the gym with posters of fish, seabirds and seascapes. They set up salon chairs, staffed by volunteer stylists from Vicki Stimac’s salon, and played “Under the Sea” as the young “clients” came in for their cuts.

After their gym teacher had his entire head shaved, a lot of the boys followed suit. Some of the boys got Mohawks, while the girls had three, four, five or more inches cut off to help reach the goal of 500 inches of locks.

With the help of a few other salons donating their hair, Brendel Elementary reached its goal, and an anonymous donor paid for the hair to be shipped from Michigan to Florida.

“This was so important for our students,” said Stimac. “They really are helping save the sea.”

Educator organizations, like the National Education Association, are also pitching in. NEA is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation to pass clean energy legislation. Ask your senators to pass comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation now.

NEA delegates to the Association’s Annual Meeting cancelled their annual Friendship Night activity so that $25,000 could be donated to Plan!t Now, an organization that helps with Gulf Coast disaster recovery efforts, including cleanup from the oil spill.

For more information on what you and your students can do to help, see our list of volunteer opportunities below.

Volunteer and Donation Opportunities
  • National Wildlife Federation Volunteer Gulf Coast Surveillance Teams — To monitor the impact of the oil spill on wildlife and habitat, the National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates in the Gulf are organizing and deploying teams of volunteers to observe the more than 10,000 miles of shoreline along the Gulf Coast. You can also volunteer through the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, or through the Sierra Club.
  • The Greater New Orleans Foundation has opened the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, which will benefit communities most affected by the oil spill in Plaquemines, St. Bernard and lower Jefferson parishes. Donations can be made online.
  • Corporation for National & Community Service
    Working with its network of community partners and national service resources, The Corporation for National and Community Service is launching a short- and long-term effort to leverage citizen service to address the devastating economic, health and environment impact inflicted by the oil spill.  
  • LA Gulf Response (Louisiana Volunteer Program)
    Local, regional and national conservation organizations are coordinating volunteers to assist in local, state and federal recovery efforts in Louisiana.  
  • Global Green USA
    By reaching out to the environmental community and emergency responders to identify needed volunteer efforts in response to the Gulf Oil Spill, Global Green USA can notify you of numerous service opportunities in the area.
  • Volunteer Louisiana
    This group provides a search engine of volunteer opportunities in the area and information regarding the response to the spill. 
  • Volunteer Mississippi
    By providing links to various volunteer response centers and the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Volunteer Mississippi lists numerous opportunities to help out with the spill. 
  • Volunteer Florida
    Recommending activities including Coast Watch, pre-oil landfall beach cleanups and fundraising, Volunteer Florida provides a number of possible actions open to volunteers.
  • The Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
    This Alabama office provides a list links including information regarding training for the BP Spill Response. 
  • Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research
    Offering a special adoption package featuring Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research is working to come to the aid of birds, some which are victims of the oil spill. 
  • Help Prepare for Florida Oil Spill in Panhandle
    Join this Facebook group to get the latest oil spill news and find contact information for a number of volunteer groups. 


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