One recent Saturday evening, 34 people got together in downtown Evergreen to celebrate an animal that is most definitely not a Colorado native.
Hosted by Serena Weingardt, 13, a Girl Scout Cadette with Evergreen troop #1745, the “Pachyderm Party” filled Go Paint! with an enthusiastic group of artists and animal lovers ranging in age from 12 to 80. Each partygoer paid $40 to decorate a faceted ceramic rhinoceros using the paint-your-own-pottery studio’s inspiring collection of tints and tools.
It all started a couple of years ago, when Serena decided to work toward her Silver Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Cadette can receive. To achieve this goal, the candidate must design and implement a major community-improvement project. Serena chose to support the Colorado-based Katie Adamson Conservation Fund, the mission of which is “to help empower the people of our planet to work together to save our remaining ecosystems and all of the creatures they contain.” More specifically, the fund supports efforts to protect fast-disappearing rhinos and elephants in Nepal and Tanzania.
Serena’s research led her to Dave Johnson, pachyderm zookeeper at the Denver Zoo and founder of the Katie Adamson fund. “She said she wanted to donate two years of her cookie money to the fund,” he remembers. “She handed me a check for $3,700.”
The two have partnered on other projects since they met last year, and to date Serena’s contributions have surpassed $5,000. This doesn’t count the $680 raised at the Go Paint! Pachyderm Party or the $500 in stuffed animals she donated to a Nepalese orphanage supported by the fund.
“Serena has invested every penny of her Girl Scout money into this project,” says her mother, Susan Weingardt. “We are extraordinarily blessed. She’s a good kid, and she wants to make a difference in the world.”
Go Paint! owner Karen Belmont agrees. “I am so proud of Serena,” she smiles. “I know there are great things in her future.”
The idea for the Go Paint! fundraiser was born a few months ago during one of Serena’s regular visits to the studio, where she’s been a steady customer for five years. “I was telling Karen about my Silver Award project,” Serena says, “and she said why don’t we have a party here to raise some money for the fund.” Karen remembered seeing a faceted rhinoceros in one of her product catalogs, and the party planning took off.
As she does with all the other community fundraisers she hosts in her studio, Karen Belmont pledged half the evening’s proceeds to the cause and started talking to her fellow downtown business owners. Thanks to their generosity, the rhino painters were treated to an amazing feast that included appetizers from Slope & Hatch, pizza from Beau Jo’s, blinis from Oh Crepe Colorado, and delectable desserts from Vivian’s Gourmet and Seasonally Yours . . . accompanied by libations from Creekside Cellars and Revival Brews.
The festivities were not dampened by the healthy dose of learning provided by Zookeeper Johnson, who explained that rhinos are the most endangered of the world’s large vertebrate animals. Potions made from rhino horn sell for as much as $100,000/kilogram in countries (primarily in Asia) where it is considered a miracle medicine, curing everything from hangovers to cancer. This creates a tempting target for poachers, who remove the horns and leave the rhinos’ bodies to rot. “We’re teaching villagers that the rhino is worth more alive than dead,” Dave says. “Dead, only a few people profit. Alive, they bring visitors, attention and desperately needed funding to whole communities.” To this end, the Katie Adamson Conservation Fund supports both animal sanctuaries and community sustainability projects. “We help the communities so they can help the rhinos,” he explains.
Katie Adamson was an Explorer Scout who was very involved in Dave Johnson’s projects and shared his zeal for protecting pachyderms. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to work with and care for wild animals, and from childhood on she pursued that goal with single-minded fervor. In 2007, during her freshman year in Colorado State University’s wild animal program, she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. She died in 2014, after a seven-year battle that did nothing to dim her desire to help endangered species throughout the world. Dave Johnson created the conservation fund in her honor, and today leads groups to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park to carry on her work.
“It’s working,” he says. “Three years ago we were losing 10 to 12 rhinos annually to poaching at Chitwan. Last year we only lost one.”
“But we need people like Serena to take over,” he continues, “to do a better job than our generation did. We need people with passion to spread the word.”
Thirty-four people won’t soon forget the special evening they spent in that little paint-your-own-pottery studio, sharing food and friendship with likeminded animal lovers. How could they, with a one-of-a-kind handpainted keepsake rhino to remind them?
Learn more at KatieAdamsonConservationFund.org.