Maryland Youth Raises Funds and Awareness for Endangered Mountain Gorillas

Daily Point of Light # 6677 Dec 23, 2019

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Addy Barrett. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Addy Barrett has always loved animals, but became especially passionate about mountain gorillas after learning about their endangered status while in first grade. Throughout the years, the Maryland resident would raise money to donate to conservation groups through lemonade stands and bake sales. In 2018, she decided to take her service a step further by creating her own website, Gorilla Heroes, to share mountain gorilla information and organize fundraisers.

Now twelve years old, Addy has raised over $11,000 with Gorilla Heroes, which she donates to The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a charity for the protection of the mountain gorillas, as well as The Ellen Fund, which supports global conservation efforts for endangered species. Addy raises the money through a few fundraisers each year, including an annual Gorilla Gala, and also creates social media campaigns to raise further awareness for the mountain gorillas’ plight. She said she dreams of becoming a primatologist to study gorilla behavior, as well as start a rescue, rehab and release to help protect the mountain gorillas and one day remove them from endangered status.

Points of Light spoke with Addy as well as her mother, Sarah, who volunteers alongside her daughter to save the mountain gorillas with Gorilla Heroes.

Addy Barrett Daily Point of Light Award Honoree 6677
Addy Barrett poses with the toys she made for the gorillas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as part of a fundraiser that raised $2,600 for gorilla conservation groups./Courtesy Addy Barrett

Describe your volunteer role with Gorilla Heroes.

Addy: We do fundraisers like the Gorilla Gala and we just did one where we made toys for every $50 donated to The Dian Fossey Fund or The Ellen Fund. We made the toys out of old t-shirts and then we gave them to the gorillas at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. We do fundraisers and all the money we get through those goes to The Dian Fossey Fund and The Ellen Fund. We also do projects where we don’t just collect money, but we try to get people’s attention through it. We did the “high five challenge” where you would post a picture of yourself giving a high five, and then it was a “#GorillaHi5 challenge.” We also make little gorilla canvases and we give them to supporters and people who have helped us along the way.

Sarah: We know that sending the money directly to those established gorilla conservation groups is the best way to make the funds that we collect go the furthest. We don’t keep any donations. We’re not a nonprofit ourselves, so any money that comes to us, we turn directly over to those already-established gorilla conservations groups.

What made you want to start Gorilla Heroes?

Addy: I’ve always had a love for animals. In first grade, I read a book about mountain gorillas and it talked a lot about how they were endangered, and that made me so upset because they were already one of my favorite animals. I just knew that I should do something, so I came home and I asked my mom, can we do something about this? She didn’t really think much of it, and then I made a poster and she posted it on Facebook. Ever since then, I would do lemonade stands and bake sales and make posters, tell my friends about it, my mom would tell her friends through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. I wanted to do something more so I made a website and Gorillas Heroes basically started there, because the name of the website is Gorilla Heroes. We started a Gorilla Heroes Facebook and a Twitter and an Instagram. It just took off from there.

Can you describe the Gorilla Gala?

Addy: The Gorilla Gala was an idea that we came up with. It was the summer after Gorilla Heroes officially started and we were trying to think of another fundraiser. We had the idea to do a party to have people learn about the importance of protecting gorillas, but then also as a fundraiser. We thought about school parties we have and what they did for those, and games and things that would get the attention of people.

Sarah: We tried to make it informative but also fun, so the games and crafts and activities we had were gorilla-themed. We reached out to pretty much any company or organization we could think of that had any affiliation with gorillas to see if they might be interested in sponsoring the event or making a donation we could use for the raffle. We were thrilled that companies like Gorilla Glue and some zoos and The Ellen Fund and The Fosse Fund [supported the event], and from the first Gorilla Gala to the second, we had even more companies.

Addy: They were great. They were very nice and they sent us our products and they were very supportive. I was so thankful that they contacted us back and agreed to help us. It was very, very great.

Addy Barrett Daily Point of Light Award Honoree
Addy Barrett, left, speaks at one of the Gorilla Gala fundraisers she and her mother Sarah, right, have thrown through Gorilla Heroes./Courtesy Addy Barrett

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?

Addy: I am very fortunate in my day-to-day life and I get so much from the people that I care about, but I know some people aren’t as fortunate and that some animals aren’t as fortunate. Obviously to us it seems like they’re not at all fortunate, because they don’t have the type of life we do, but in their own life, they’re not as fortunate, because they are in a world where they are being attacked everyday by poachers. I think it’s important to help them have the life that I would want if I was in their situation.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Addy: Some people think that gorillas are very mean and aggressive, but I think that is definitely not true. People call them gentle giants and I love that, because they can look intimidating but they are very, very gentle. They are very sweet and they will not hurt you unless you very much try to threaten them. They are very, very amazing creatures and they are not evil and they are not mean. They’re very, very kind.

Sarah: It surprises me because I work in an elementary school and whenever I wear my Gorilla Heroes shirt and it says ‘Save the mountain gorillas,’ I’m always surprised — I guess because we are in this world, Addy and I, doing Gorilla Heroes, we talk to a lot of people who know a lot about animals — so it surprises me when a little kid will look at me and be like, one, ‘Why do we care to save the gorillas?’, and two, ‘Aren’t they scary and mean?’ There is still this misconception out there about the way that gorillas are and their aggressiveness. I think that’s something that’s always a good takeaway. We want to save them because they are close relatives to humans and like Addy said, they’re just gentle giants.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Addy: I’ve had a few young kids tell me that they have been inspired by what I do. I think that satisfies me so much, knowing that young people are inspired by what I do, because that is one of my goals — to have young people realize they don’t have to be an adult to do things. That just makes me feel so good to know that I am impacting the lives of young kids like me.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Addy: I have learned you just have to have confidence. I have talked to many people and it’s scary, but you have to be confident that you can do what you want to do and you can accomplish what you want to accomplish, and not to be scared of your dreams. Well, it’s ok to be scared of your dreams because if you’re not scared of them, then they’re not big enough. But definitely have confidence when you’re doing what you love to do. Have confidence in your passion.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Addy? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Morganne Mallon