Forest Animal Rescue

Name: Kayla Tomsen
Type of Project: Service-Learning & Community Service

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.During my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Silver Springs, Florida to Forest Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization that works to take in animals that cannot be released back to the wild. During my time there, I worked long, hot days erecting a tiger cage. When I was not working on that project, I was hauling sand and support beams to certain areas all while learning a bit about the importance of animal preservation.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

This trip transformed me in many ways due to the amazing words and actions of Kurt, the head of Forest Animal Rescue. I now have a newfound appreciation for individuals who dedicate their lives to a cause simply because they care deeply about that cause. Before this trip, I had always dreamed of being able to grow older with a career that would be able to support me and my future family. Now, although this is still important to me, I now have dreams of working with other nonprofit organizations and taking some time out of my career to invest in a cause that I am passionate about. Kurt and is wife lived an extremely humble lifestyle and I grew to deeply admire that and even crave the happiness they got from helping their animals. Before this trip, I always thought these types of organizations were about getting  money, but I now  know that it is truly to make a difference. During this trip, I endured a vast amount of physical labor in the smoldering weather. Every day I wanted to quit due to how difficult it really was. But after that week, the feelings that I had of pride and accomplishment overshadowed all of those feelings. This alone transformed the way that I view difficult work. Before, I always dreaded doing things that I knew were difficult for me or were not in any of the areas that I thrive in. After this trip, I am able to tackle different tasks that before I might have been to afraid to tackle. Although my physical abilities are lacking, I now have started working out regularly, something that I never did before. I realized that I liked being able to help in a physical way and seeing the 4 acre tiger cage that I had helped built at the end of the week was such a surreal feeling. This trip was truly transformative and I will be different because of it.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Before my trip to Forest Animal Rescue, I had not really thought about animal rights in depth before. Although I had always believed in providing a good environment for animals, seeing it first hand was a bit different. I would say that I received the most transformation through my interactions with the couple who ran Forest Animal Rescue. When we first arrived on site, Kurt was extremely gruff and I thought I was going to dread the journey. He was stern about the clothes we were wearing and the way that we came to get to the site. What I didn’t realize then was that Forest Animal Rescue is Kurt’s entire life. Kurt and his wife have worked for over 15 years to build up their nonprofit so that they are able to help these animals have a better life. As the week went on, I realized that Kurt was only gruff because he was so passionate about what he was doing and he wanted to make sure that we were as well. When I first arrived at Forest Animal Rescue, I must admit that I did not know the caliber of the project and as week grew on, I became more and more passionate about the work that I was doing and the animals that I was helping. Kurt’s attitude towards helping the animals at the facility was what ultimately lead me to the conclusion that I wanted to be able to participate in a non-profit that touches me the way that it does kurt and his wife every day. As the days passed and Kurt saw the dedication of my group, he would get a little warmer every day. By the end of the trip I knew that I would miss Kurt and his wife, when just a few days earlier I would have loved to never see them again.

As the week went on, I worked harder than I had ever worked in my entire life. Every day starting at 8 in the morning, I would throw on my jeans and tennis shoes and emerge into the 100 degree heat. Lifting the cage walls was a feat that took every ounce of energy that I had and by the end of every day I was covered in sweat, dirt, and ticks due to being in the deep forest for the entirety of the day. When I was not building the cage, I was out in the direct sunlight filling in sand and building structures for the animals to lounge/play on. This was almost worse than the cage building due to the intense heat. After these days, I would come back to the camp with bubbling sunburn so painful that I used an entire bottle of Aloe. Despite these grueling conditions that I had never endured before, this is what caused my second transformation. As I mentioned, this trip made me value the reward of hard physical labor. All of the work that I accomplished while on this trip only made me stronger, not only mentally, but physically.

During this trip, I also realized the true intentions of non-profit organizations. Kurt and his wife live an extremely humble lifestyle, something that truly inspired me. During the course of the week, I witnessed many phone calls that ended in Kurt spending his own money in order to get various things for the animals, like more cage walls and special food that certain animals prefer. During the week, Kurt would always show up in his torn jeans and Forest Animal Rescue shirt, which I purchased and still adore. Kurt, who told me that he had had 35 surgeries so far, would come out every day and help as much as he could. Regardless of the pain that he was in, he never complained. Kurt’s actions were truly amazing and the amount of care that he had for what he was doing was amazing. Kurt’s intentions were never to make money or to be recognized for what he was doing, but they were to truly make a difference in the lives of the animals and while doing that, he made a difference in my life as well.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

These transformations are extremely valuable for my life. Due to this trip, I have realized my desire to work with a non-profit organization. Although my career goals are still intact, this allows me to start looking for different non-profit organizations that I might be passionate about. By starting to search now, I can become invested and hopefully make some differences in certain organizations. As mentioned, I also gained a new appreciation for hard work, giving me an even stronger work ethic and preparing me for mental and physical labor. This is important for my future due to the fact that as a nurse, I will have to not only endure the mental wear down, but also physical wear down. Because this trip strengthened my understanding for this type of work, it will hopefully help me in my job as a nurse.