Tuesday, June 8, 2010

10-year-old New Yorker raises thousands of dollars for Gulf oil spill fight

By Casandra Andrews
June 08, 2010

MOBILE, Ala. -- Olivia Bouler, a fifth-grader from Islip, NY, has spent summers feeding dolphins from her family's Orange Beach pier, watching with delight as sea birds squawked overhead.

The 10-year-old burst into tears during dinner a few weeks back as her parents discussed how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was affecting the wildlife she loves so much.

"When I heard about this I was very devastated and I wanted to do something to help," Olivia said. "I'm no James Audubon, but I can draw."

That night, she climbed the stairs to her room and crafted a letter to the National Audubon Society. She told them she wanted to donate money and asked their permission. The young artist, who will be 11 in a few weeks, included a striking drawing of a red cardinal. She signed the letter: "Olivia, 11 years old and willing to help."

Soon after, someone from the Audubon Society called to inquire about purchasing one of her drawings to hang at their Manhattan headquarters. They also discussed the best way for the Boulers to go about raising money for wildlife preserves in coastal Alabama and beyond.

After talking with her parents -- James, an architect who grew up in Alabama, and her mother, Nadine, an English teacher from New York -- Olivia decided to offer original watercolors of birds to raise money for several groups, including the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and the Weeks Bay Foundation.

Anyone who makes a donation to those groups or others, can email nadinebouler@hotmail.com to let them know. Olivia will then draw a bird, paint it, and mail it out.

On Mother's Day, Olivia called her grandmother, Monroeville resident Jane Bouler, and asked if she would buy a painting.

"When I found out the scope of what this one child was attempting to do -- I still can barely talk about it without a tremor in my voice," Jane Bouler said. "This child is doing what we all should be doing and she genuinely wants to help the birds."

Olivia said her affection for birds began when she was six, after receiving a book on the feathered creatures. When creating original artwork, Olivia seeks inspiration from Audubon books, she said, then draws pictures with an ebony pencil on thick watercolor paper. She uses paintbrushes to add thin layers of color to each piece.

"I'm going to do it as long as they need help," Olivia said.

The Boulers have mailed off about 25 drawings so far, Olivia said. Her father estimates his daughter's efforts have generated more than $2,500 and possibly as much as $4,000. It's hard to know for sure, he said, because the family isn't asking people to let them know how much they donate.

"We're getting letters from people all over the country," James Bouler said. "It's been really sweet. People are really touched by what she's trying to do."

Her parents created a Facebook fan page called "Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations" for their daughter's work. So far, nearly 400 people have joined the online group.

"I was only expecting people we knew to buy them," Olivia said, "but it really got around."

Olivia, her younger brother, and her father are traveling to Monroeville to visit her grandparents next week.

"I grew up swimming and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico," James Bouler said. "We go down at least twice a year so she's grown up really understanding how beautiful and how wonderful it is there."

When asked about times spent on the Alabama coast, Olivia's tone turned serious. "I was very devastated that it's being ruined right now," she said. "It's really sad. It's really mind boggling."

Donate to The Audubon Society, The Sierra Club, The Weeks Bay Foundation, The Mobile Bay Estuary Program or the National Wildlife Fund to help with Gulf recovery. Let the Boulers know by sending an email to nadinebouler@hotmail.com and they'll send you one of Olivia's drawings.


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