A St. Louis conservation group met recently to celebrate its birthday and to thank supporters and volunteers, which included some Wildwood advocates, at a gala event at the Saint Louis Zoo.
The Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest group is led by dedicated conservation-minded volunteers all over the St. Louis area. The science and travel director is Wildwood resident Maggie Eisenberger, a longtime science teacher at The Fulton School in nearby St. Albans. She has lots of credentials and experience in all things rainforest, including a master's degree in tropical ecology from University of Missouri-St. Louis' Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center.
Eisenberger spent four months in the Darien jungle doing research projects and interned as the manager of the Cana Field Station for ANCON, the NGO that controls ecotourism to the Darien rainforest.
“I have been leading groups to visit a neotropical rainforest nearly every summer for over 20 years,” she said. “I took my first trip in 1991, to Belize, and became a group leader for Save The Rainforest, a group that promoted educational materials and fundraising opportunities for elementary schools and ecology trips for high school and college groups.
“I led trips to Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, the Peruvian Amazon, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador and the Galapagos."
Eisenberger said the teacher who introduced her to the rainforest in 1990, Rachel Crandell, was doing similar trips but only to Costa Rica, in support of the Children's Eternal Rainforest. "We often gave workshops and talks together, for the Science Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Missouri Conservation Forum, and all sorts of school groups, garden clubs, seniors clubs, church youth groups, and more," said Eisenberger.
"In 2009, she died unexpectedly and I was invited to join the board and take over leading her trips to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, which I was more than happy to do. I had spent a whole summer, in 1996, in the Monteverde area volunteering with the Monteverde Institute and was familiar with the entire area. I had also gone on Rachel's trip in 2008 to learn her itinerary, as she was feeling overwhelmed and in need of help with her trips.”
Eisenberger enthusiastically promotes her organization, and her bubbly personality makes many friends for the cause. “Did you know the Children’s Eternal Rainforest was chosen by National Geographic as one of the 100 most important philanthropies in the world, for those looking for a place to donate or volunteer?"
She said the choice was based on three elements:
- A 25-year history of successful stewardship,
- The low overhead (meaning most of your donation goes directly to the mission), and
- The critical importance of this particular forest itself.
The zoo event also was a fundraiser. Students from The Fulton School presented a check after the main address, which was presented by Dr. Peter Raven, a member of the board of directors.
Wildwood residents Karim Salem and Siu Salem-Pon also attended the fundraiser with their children, Diego and Danny. Salem-Pon, a native of Honduras, is a Spanish teacher at The Fulton School, and the boys attend there also. They are truly an international family, with Karim Salem a native of Chile.
"We were very interested about the Children's Eternal Rainforest as soon as my oldest son, Diego, told us about it when he heard it at school. They were studying the rainforest in science class and they did an amazing research and presentation. I watched my son become more interested and curious about the subject. And then his teacher, Mrs. Janet Dittrich, told the class that they were going to raise money for the rainforest," said Salem-Pon.
"They asked the school community to donate used books and sold them at school for a week! I observed my son's enthusiasm and got my family involved. The kids did an amazing job getting organized, selling, etc; and Diego came home excited about how well things were going. Then, Mrs. Dittrich told us about the event at the zoo, and we were all aboard! You see, I am from Central America, so there is a bond there. And just watching my son doing something right got me all excited, too."
Steven and Sandy Tomey, Wildwood residents, also are longtime supporters of the rainforest group. Steven Tomey is a science teacher at Lindbergh High School and is the sponsor of the Environmental Club there. “I’ve been taking students down to the Costa Rican rainforest for years and we have a trip coming up again this summer. It’s a tremendous learning experience for the students,” he said.
The Monteverde Conservation League, a partner of the St. Louis group, began in 1987, when a group of Swedish second grade students decided to buy 25 acres of the rainforest to save it from being destroyed. This has since become a global effort, and now 55,000 acres are included in the wildlife preserve. Thousands of species are protected and it has been an open-air classroom for hundreds of groups that hike to waterfalls and mudpots, observe birds and other wildlife, and stay in the comfortable San Gerardo Biological Field Station.
The group has an eco-tour coming up June 29 to July 7, and spaces are available on the tour. Find out more by visiting the group’s website.