How One Organization Is Empowering Young Adults to Be Animal Advocates

As a child, Barbara Bellino paid neighborhood boys to release butterflies they had trapped for pleasure. Her parents taught her love and respect for all life and she passed that lesson along to her own children. In an effort to help animals in need, Bellino founded Animal Lifesavers, Inc. in 2000 with the help of her daughters Elaine Samman and Karen Helmstetter. From the beginning, one of the missions of the nonprofit that’s located in North Bergen, NJ was to empower children to make a difference for animals.

“Children are our future and you have to teach them to be humane at an early age,” said Bellino, who is now 83 and still active in the organization. “I’ve watched too many parents have complete disregard as their children pull wings off of butterflies or take pleasure in seeing how many ants they can step on. Children have to be taught respect for all life.”

Animal Lifesavers started out as a grassroots rescue group made up of family and friends and has grown into a recognized nonprofit that hosts weekly adoption events at PetSmart. Participants of the Animal Lifesavers Children’s Division range in age from 10 to 15. Through educational programs and hands-on activities, the youngsters learn compassion for animals. Fundraising activities include creating seasonal gift boxes, selling raffle tickets to friends and family, selling lemonade and crafts, donating birthday money or doing extra chores either at home or for a neighbor.

At on-site adoption events, young members help bottle feed kittens, socialize cats and dogs, promote the animals to potential adopters and assist with adoption application forms.

AnimalLifesaversyoungvoluntPhoto courtesy of Animal Lifesavers 

They also help showcase the organization and homeless animals through social media. In addition, they raise awareness about animal welfare issues in the larger community by reaching out to public officials. Most recently they distributed petitions on behalf of the BEAR Group, an organization working to protect the state’s black bear, and reached out to the governor and state legislatures asking them to put an end to the annual bear hunt.

“We remind the children that their actions might not get instantaneous results but they are bringing about awareness and with awareness, you can get results,” said Helmstetter, a school teacher, who serves as director of the Children’s Division. “I offer as an example our new governor who is against the bear hunt because people spoke out and told him that if he supported it they wouldn’t vote for him.”

Helping Youth Turn Compassion into Action  

Every September Samman, who is president of Animal Lifesavers, gets flooded with calls from local schools asking if students can volunteer to complete their required service hours. She hasn’t always been able to accommodate these requests but sees this as a missed opportunity. In January, Animal Lifesavers will hold monthly meetings for teenagers who want to help animals.

“I want to inspire and excite a whole new generation of young people, and I think to do that we have to give them more ownership and responsibility for projects,” Samman said. “Our current core group is very excited to get started with these meetings.”

The teenagers’ first project will focus on feral cat colonies. While there are many feral cat colonies in North Bergen, the town does not allow TNR programs to operate in the community. The youngsters will learn all about TNR and why it is an effective and humane way to control colonies. Samman hopes that young people raising their voices alongside adult activists will make a difference for animals in need.

“I want our teenagers to go before the mayor of our town fully prepared to explain to him why TNR is a good solution to the feral cat problem,” Samman said. “They might not get the laws changed in our town, but working on this project will teach them compassion and what they need to do if they want to see change.”

girlwithcatsPhoto courtesy of Animal Lifesavers 

Tips from Animal Lifesavers for involving children in animal rescue work

  • Be open and willing to explore options for how children can help animals.
  • Understand that children of all abilities have something to contribute.  Helmstetter’s son, Dougie, who has Down syndrome, promotes Animal Lifesavers at weekly meetings for special needs children. Because of Dougie’s passion, members of his group run food and toy drives to benefit homeless animals. Most recently, they made up baskets to auction off at Animal Lifesaver’s  holiday tricky tray event. “Dougie has taught me that anybody can make a contribution if only you will allow it,” Helmstetter said. “Special needs people are some of our biggest supporters.”
  • Assign an adult to oversee the youth program and create a set of guidelines and expectations for the young members.
  • Give the teenagers ownership of projects and set goals. This will help to inspire and motivate them to stay involved.

 

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Animal Lifesavers"

70 comments

Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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natasha p
Past Member 9 months ago

so wonderful!

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Lesa D
Lesa D10 months ago

it starts at home, but this is an EXCELLENT way to reinforce compassion & empathy in children!!!

thank you, Vera...

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K M
K M10 months ago

Thank you for caring and sharing with us.

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K M
K M10 months ago

It's great that children can learn early to care for animals. 'A society is judged by how it treats its animals"

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Greta H
Past Member 10 months ago

Thank you

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