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A flying squirrel pokes it head out from under a blanket in a pre-release cage Wednesday, Jan. 29, at Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators near Newbern. Kathy Hershey, head of the center, recently learned the Tony Stewart Foundation has awarded a grant that will aid efforts for a new nature center and treatment facility on the grounds of Utopia.
Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators is a step closer to making much-needed additions to its 10-acre facility near Hope.
The center has received a $3,000 grant from the Tony Stewart Foundation, which offers grant assistance to nonprofit organizations that serve critically ill and disabled children, endangered and at-risk animals and drivers who have suffered injuries while participating in motor racing.
Stewart, a Columbus native, is a NASCAR team owner and driver. In 2013, his foundation gave nearly $720,000 to more than 90 organizations in 21 states.
Kathy Hershey, president of Utopia, said she plans to purchase an adjoining property and building to be used as another nature center.
The grant money will go toward Utopia’s plan to raise $200,000 for expansion, Hershey said.
“The goal is not to be
huge, but more efficient,” Hershey said. “To suit the animals’ needs.”
Since the facility opened in 2002 and became a nonprofit in 2004, it has sustained itself through grants and in-kind donations from the community.
As the population Utopia helps continues to grow, the facility itself is needing to expand as well, Hershey said.
“We hope to have a new nature and treatment facility,” said Barb Garton, a Utopia board member. “It is badly needed.”
Each year, the 10-acre Utopia offers more than 175
educational programs to the public. In 2013, the facility cared for 400 animals and reached more than 10,000 residents with wildlife-conflict issues, such as how to get animals out of a home’s attic and figuring out why wildlife is approaching a home, Hershey said.
“We also monitor wildlife health and report to state and federal agencies,” Hershey said. “The most important thing is educating people. Most kids’ interaction with animals is virtual these days.”
Garton believes promoting education and appreciation among the public is essential to the preservation of Indiana wildlife.
“We want to promote respect for all creatures,” Garton said. “And for people to know how valuable wildlife is.”
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