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Girl uses art to raise funds for birds in Gulf oil spill

By Cassie Spodak, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Olivia Bouler draws to raise money to help oily birds in the Gulf
  • The 11-year-old approached the Audubon Society with the idea
  • So far, she's raised more than $110,000
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New York (CNN) -- Her teachers knew she loved to doodle on her tests and homework, but no one thought Olivia Bouler's drawing skills would raise more than $110,000 to help birds affected by the Gulf oil spill.

The 11-year-old wrote to the Audubon Society and told them she had an idea that could help raise money.

"I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and give the profits to your organization," the letter said.

The idea got some attention.

"Many people are outraged and don't know where to vent that because they can't drive to the beach and help. So what Olivia has done has set a beautiful example by using her skills and creating an initiative that is fruitful for everyone," said

Delta Willis, the senior communications manager for The National Audubon Society.

It was an innovative idea, but no one expected her efforts to pull in more than $90,000, and a $25,000 donation from AOL, after it signed on to host her initiative as part of AOL artists profiles.

Olivia has promised to send original paintings to her first 500 donors who helped her raise $25,000. She's completed about half of them and plans to spend her summer sending out the remaining paintings.

She's a resident of Islip, New York, but her father grew up in Orange Beach, Alabama, and she visits her grandparents as well as her cousins in Louisiana. Aside from her family, Olivia knew that the birds were also suffering from the oil spill in the Gulf.

Olivia's mom, Nadine, said AOL contacted them after the initiative's Facebook page "Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations" caught the attention of media outlets. The AOL Artists profile page launched June 8, and donations have poured in over the past week. The Facebook page has more than 21,000 fans.

Delta Willis has worked on conservation issues for 30 years and was amazed by Olivia's success.

"This is new to have this kind of outpouring of a response, it's very unique," Willis said. "In my experience, I've never seen an outpouring like this. It's a beautiful gesture."

Olivia said that John James Audubon, the French-American ornithologist who painted and described the birds of North America in his book "Birds of America," was her inspiration.

Although Olivia says she took "one little class" on drawing, she has created about 180 paintings of different birds.

After giving money to Olivia's initiative, donors can e-mail the receipt to Oliviasbirds@aol.com and they will receive one of five prints selected from the original paintings she has created.

Most of her drawing experience comes from doodling on tests and homework. When Olivia sits down to make a painting, she leafs through the "Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology" or the National Audubon Society Field Guide and reads facts about the birds.

Olivia, who said she wants to attend Cornell University and be an ornithologist, told CNN that she became interested in birds at age 4 after she read a book on the topic. She's been hooked ever since.

Olivia loves to go bird watching and names the American Kestrel and the Blue Jay as two of her favorites.

The National Audubon Society had the first volunteers on the ground after they were called to the Gulf Coast by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Willis said. Members will use the donated money to support volunteers, staff and stock rehabilitation centers, and find transportation for the birds.

Although they are limited by regulations stipulating who can touch the contaminated birds, volunteers can help transport the birds in containers to rehabilitation centers and patrol beaches looking for injured birds.

To donate to Olivia's initiative, click here.

 
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