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The North Alabama Zoological Society (NALZS) received $17,000 from Collins Aerospace to fund the society’s education programs. The check for the donation was presented during the final NALZS summer camp of the season.

NALZS receives $17,000 to fund education from Collins Areospace

By Kassidy Wilkins

The North Alabama Zoological Society (NALZS) received $17,000 from Collins Aerospace to fund the society’s education programs. The check for the donation was presented during the final NALZS summer camp of the season.

A large portion of the donation will be used to fund NALZS’ currently operated education programs. A smaller portion will be used to sustain NALZS as a nonprofit. None of this donation will be put toward the purchase of the zoo campuses.

NALZS put $3,000 of the funds toward the purchase of LCD microscopes for use in their educational programs in an effort to be more conducive to children with spectrum disorders and other physical disabilities. Instead of small eyepieces, these microscopes have a small screen which displays the magnified image allowing for easier viewing, especially for children with sensory disorders. “We do a lot of work with kids that are autistic,” NALZS executive director Ethan Wodruff said, “and the traditional microscope is not a very friendly device for those kids, but this one is really good for them.”

Another portion of the donation from Collins Areospace will go toward scholarships for kids to attend their programs. This week alone, they had five children on scholarships which covered not only the cost of camp but also came with a stipend that supplied them clothes, food, meals and money for fuel. Some of the remaining funds will be put toward the Junior Zoological society which operates in local high schools in addition to library readings.

“It just helps us throughout the year,” Christie Wodruff NALZS Director of Education said, “in all the different ways that we can touch whatever school system, whatever kid that we need to.”

NALZS’ sponsor, Collins Areospace, a United Technologies Company, does much philanthropic work in inspiring youth and investing the workforce. Tom von Eschenbach, the Director of Program management, expressed that even though Collins Aerospace is an aviation company, they still see the value of the hands-on, biological learning that NALZS does. Collins Aerospace’s connection to NALZS is through Dave Walsh, Director, Open Systems at Collins Areospace, whose wife, Jenna is on the NALZS board. Walsh also was present as a Collins representative at the presentation.

The presentation of the donation was held at the society’s proposed research and education campus. NALZS currently has a relationship with the owner which allows them to hold summer camps there and has plans to buy it. A 200-acre property with the Limestone Creek running along the edge, NALZS plans to build a research center and dormitory for researchers while leaving the creek portion open to the public and conserved. While local universities have research programs, there is not currently anywhere for the researchers to say. “[Lodging is] one of the biggest costs for researchers,” Ethan Wodruff said.

The NALZS summer camps are week-long day camps that expose kids to learning about the sciences in an outdoor classroom. They also have a Youth Camp Counselor program in which 14- to 23-year-olds can be trained and get volunteer hours for serving with the kids. Christie Wodruff remarked that this was her favorite program and that they are “not just changing tomorrow’s scientists but helping to create tomorrow’s leaders.”

This donation comes soon after an announcement that the proposed property for the main zoo campus has been taken off the market. Ethan Fitzgerald, NALZS communications manager, said that they are “still very much in conversations” with the owners and possible developers of the property. “We lead with transparency,” he said. “It’s not easy to build the first modern zoo in three decades.”

NALZS, founded in 2019, is run entirely on a volunteer basis. Their ambassador animal, Twickenham, a subsaharan tortoise, was present at the event and made multiple attempts to escape, but he was commandeered and returned to his home. Twickenham often makes appearances at NALZS library readings and other events.

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