One of the charities the Ries family donated money to was to help save endangered cheetahs. They sent a yearly contribution to the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Center to “adopt” cheetahs, paying for their food and care in South Africa. There are only an estimated 15,000 cheetahs left in the world, less than 1,000 in South Africa.
But two years ago, as money got increasingly tight for the Ries (pronounced: Rees) family because of the downturn in the economy, parents Jim and Lauren called a family meeting … with some tough choices to make. The Ries family, living in Fayetteville, Georgia, could use the money they’d been sending to the cheetahs half-way around the world.
The kids, Carter and Olivia, then 8 1/2 and 7 years old, began to cry at hearing this news. They were upset at the idea that cheetahs could become extinct without people like them to help. They ran to their rooms, emptied their piggy banks, and donated everything they had to the cheetahs — $100 each.
That was just the beginning.
As the family continued to talk, they realized it wasn’t just cheetahs that needed their help but many other species of animals near extinction as well. And what Jim and Lauren thought was going to be a quick meeting and a tough reality soon to be forgotten by the kids, has now become a near full-time commitment for the entire family as they founded One More Generation (OMG) , a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping save endangered species … for at least one more generation.
OMG is run predominantly by 5th grader, Carter, and 4th grader, Olivia, now ages 10 1/2 and 9.
HTE had the privilege of asking them a few questions.
HTE: Why is saving endangered species important to you?
Carter: If they go extinct, that will be the last one and future generations will not be able to see them. For instance, if the shark goes away [for good], there will be too many bait fish in our oceans eating all of the plankton which help us get oxygen. Every species has a purpose in this world. If one is removed, they all come tumbling down.
HTE: It started with you donating your own money, but it’s become much more than that. You’ve since seen firsthand what goes into helping save and caring for some of these animals. Can you tell me a bit about your experiences in that regard?
Carter: Seeing pictures on CNN of the animals covered in oil [during the BP oil spill off the coast of Florida in April 2010], we knew we had to do something. So on Olivia’s 8th birthday we drove down to the Gulf where we delivered the animal rescue supplies we had collected over the previous four months.
Then we helped the people at the Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Rescue Center unload all the supplies that we brought for them. We got to watch them clean all the animals including sharks, dolphins and over 146 sea turtles. We learned how they get oil out of a sea turtle by squirting a syringe filled with mayonnaise down their throat which forces the oil out.
Most of the turtles had to be helped for six to eight weeks before they could go back into the water.
This is how we first heard about the issue of plastic pollution and how bad it is for all the sea life. That’s when we figured out we needed to help clean up the environment for all the animals. It’s not enough to just take care of animals, you have to also take care of the earth as well so they have a healthy environment.
HTE: You started a Plastic Awareness Coalition. What’s the connection between plastic bags and endangered species?
Olivia: Each year animals eat plastic bags because they think it’s food and they die. We learned that each year over 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die from eating plastic and it made us sad.
HTE: You spend a lot of time on OMG. What do you like to do for fun?
Carter: I like to play soccer and especially goal-keeper. I also like to play Wii. I take art classes and I love to draw cartoon characters. I am also writing my own music.
Olivia: I like to make gifts for people, and play Christmas songs on the piano. I love to read, I love traveling especially on airplanes. I like to invent things and do science. I love going to the zoo and visiting all my animal friends (especially Stripes the bengal tiger). I also play tennis, I am on a swim team and I might start playing soccer again soon!
Do you have questions for Carter and Olivia? Submit them below. They’re happy to take your questions!
After saving up for two years, Carter, Olivia and the entire Ries family will be traveling to South Africa this Sunday, December 18, to present a $1,000 check to the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Center after fundraising in their community. And they’ll finally be meeting the cheetahs they have been so dedicated to trying to save.
In their next piece for HTE, they’ll be discussing the small steps we can all take, even as kids, to make a difference. And they’ll be sending updates from South Africa when they can.
Congratulations to Olivia, Carter, and the entire Ries family for their hard work and passion. Olivia and Carter hope to continue their work and open the world’s largest animal sanctuary one day! They seem to be on their way!