Devon Miner, son of Dan and Kathy Miner, Almond, turns 10 on Jan. 29. Instead of gifts this year, he asked his family, friends and classmates to donate useful items to Raptor Education Group Inc. (REGI), an Antigo-based nonprofit that rehabilitates injured birds and educates the public on wildlife issues.
Devon said he saw a TV segment just before Christmas about a girl who used her birthday to collect 300 pairs of shoes for an orphanage. He started thinking about a way he could do something similar.
His moment of inspiration came on a cold day in early January, when his family went to see REGI wildlife educator Abbey Ruppert release a great horned owl back into the wild.
Pat Voss, a family friend, had accidentally hit the owl while driving on County Road GG near Wolf Lake in southeast Portage County a couple of weeks earlier.
Voss and Cindy Wills, an animal lover and a fifth-grade teacher at Almond-Bancroft Elementary School, drove the bird to the REGI facility. The owl was not seriously injured, but needed a safe place to regain its strength.
“(Voss) called up and invited the family to see the owl released,” said Kathy.
The day proved to be an influential one for Devon. “When it took off it was only like two feet away from my face,” he said.
Devon had been talking about his birthday idea, but still surprised his mother in selecting REGI. “As soon as we got back in their car, he said, ‘Mom, that’s it. We can donate to them,” she said. “I was overwhelmed.”
One of the first things Kathy did was check the REGI wish list on its website. She said the requested items, like duct tape, dish soap, baby food, tarps and blankets seemed reasonable. Devon thought he would get about 10 or 12 gifts from family and friends, but decided he could have a bigger impact if he could get all of his fourth-grade classmates involved. A goal of 30 items was set.
Kathy contacted Devon’s teacher, Carrie Karch, to make sure it would be OK. The class had studied owls quite a bit the previous year, after an owl, eventually dubbed Piper, built a nest in a pipe near the school.
Kathy gave a presentation to Devon’s class Friday, Jan. 18, and the classroom added a thermometer poster representing Devon’s 30-item goal.
“I hope he blows the top off of it,” said Kathy. “That would be amazing.”
To thank the class, the Miners will host a party for Devon’s classmates Friday, Jan. 25.
On March 4, the elementary school’s Parents in Education (P.I.E.) group, which Kathy serves as secretary, will sponsor REGI to give two presentations at the school for its 4k- though fifth-grade students.
Ruppert, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point alumna, will lead the presentations. Birds that come into REGI and are injured too badly to be released back into the wild are kept as education birds. Ones that behave well with crowds become part of the group’s presentations.
“We take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 birds per year that have been injured,” said Ruppert. She said REGI is nationally known for its work rehabilitating birds suffering the effects of lead poising.
The educational aspects of the presentation will focus on ways people, including kids, can help prevent birds from becoming injured in the first place, including things like adding window clings, cutting plastic soda rings before disposal and disposing of fishing line properly.
Ruppert joined the staff at REGI in October of 2012. The release of the great horned owl along County Road GG was one of the first she had done with the group. She said it was “awesome” that Devon was so moved by the experience.
“It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had here,” she said of the result of that release. “It’s been wonderful.”
Kathy had hoped a bald eagle, the Almond-Bancroft schools’ mascot, would be available for the presentations. Ruppert said REGI has a juvenile bald eagle that will not be ready in time, but that it may have a golden eagle available depending on how well it adapts to traveling.
Kathy also made a Facebook event to reach out to the community for support. She said people have been generous in helping Devon achieve his birthday wish. She has received cards and donations from neighbors. A co-worker of Devon’s dad left a donation for Devon in Dan’s truck.
If Devon raises enough money, he hopes to be able to purchase one of the bigger ticket items on REGI’s wish list, like a power washer, for the group.
Donations made as part of Devon’s birthday wish may be sent by Jan. 29 to Mrs. Karch’s fourth grade class at 1336 Elm St., Almond, WI 54909. People can also donate directly to REGI at anytime in a variety of ways outlined on its website www.raptoreducationgroup.org
“I just want people to know so they can donate,” said Devon. “I really like doing it.”