“I love animals and want to save a lot of them.Can you help me get more people to save our forests?”These were the first inspiring words out of eight year old Cole Rasenberger’s mouth when we got together at his elementary school in Charlotte, NC.
On the outside, Cole looks like your normal, happy 2nd grader. He loves to draw (and is great at it as evidenced by the postcards he drew for his project). He loves all kinds of sports, especially football, baseball and basketball. His favorite spot to visit in North Carolina is Beech Mountain, “because of the hiking, diversity, wild turkeys, caves and the raptor rescue program.” He has a pet snake named Popcorn, two fish, and a dog.
Let’s rewind to a fateful day in March. I received an email from Cole asking me to help him protect North Carolina’s coastal forests. Cole wanted to know what he could do to make the biggest impact to help stop deforestation and protect all of the animals he loves in our state. By the tone of his email I assumed he was in high school, so I pointed him to our website and our fast food packaging campaign and sent him copies of our fast food packaging report and Southern Swamplands report.
Unsure if I would hear from him again, a couple of short weeks later, I got an email back from Cole letting me know that he had spoken to his principal at his school in northwest Charlotte, NC and asked for permission to get all of the students at his school to sign postcards to fast food companies asking them to protect our forests by using less packaging and more recycled paper.
Permission was granted and so Cole set to work developing a plan on how to reach out to all of the students at his school and make sure their voices were heard by the fast food corporate executives. It was at this time that I got a “secret” email from Cole’s mom, Kerry, letting me know that Cole was actually 8 years old, and his school is Mountain Island Elementary School. She also wanted to stress that this was all being driven by Cole and the adults were just there to support him and help him with his grammar skills. Eight years old? Incredible!
Cole drew four postcards of animal habitat that were approved by his principal and then crafted his message to the fast food companies along with an action plan. He recruited teams of two for every grade level to help him and set Earth Week as his time for getting all of the postcards signed. With the help of his mom, he got 2250 postcards printed and wrote up a speech to be read in each class asking his fellow students to sign a postcard and help him protect our coastal forests.
During Earth Week, 24 kids stormed 51 classrooms over a period of 3 days during the kids’ reading period and got all 2250 postcards signed. They educated the students about the importance of protecting our forests and how their voices could be heard to help get fast food executives to be leaders in environmental change. When I got news of this I almost cried at the beauty and power of youth to make a positive impact on the Earth.
Here is Cole delivering the message to me that he delivered to all of the classes at his school:
A couple of weeks later, I ventured down to Charlotte to meet up with Cole, his buddies Chase and Sydney, and his little sister Kaela, who all took part in the campaign. They were so revved up and excited not only to hear back from the companies but to get other local schools to participate in the campaign.
I took the opportunity to sit down with Cole, shoot some photos and video and interview him. He walked me through everything he did and I was so impressed, he is 8 years old and in second grade and he already has the skills of a veteran organizer. I asked Cole why he decided to do this, he told me “In my TD (Talent Development) class we were asked to save one animal and instead I decided to save 1000 animals!”
When I asked him who could help, he said, “All moms like to watch Oprah, can we call Oprah?” Hopefully she will read this and decide she needs to call Cole!
When we talked about the fast food companies, he had an incredibly positive outlook and hopes that McDonald’s and the other fast food companies will listen. He specifically said that he wanted to “help them to be the leader in environmental change for my generation!” Here’s hoping Cole’s dreams come true!
Every now and again something so inspiring comes along that you have to share it with the world and hope that it not only makes you smile but encourages you to do your part to help make this world a better place. I hope you will join Dogwood Alliance in helping make Cole’s dreams for a better world for his and future generations come true!
PS Throughout this story are references to more photos and video of Cole and his friend Chase we took, including the beautiful postcards he designed for the campaign.You can also visit here or here to peruse them all.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]