By Blake Schaper

As it is said, “Environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect.” And last month, the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee has been honored to learn how to protect the environment through the conservation of Illinois wildlife with one of their sponsor not-for-profits, Treehouse Wildlife Center.

Treehouse Wildlife Center is a rehabilitation center for animals on an 8.5-acre property in Dow, Illinois. Their area of work is from Peoria to Springfield to Carbondale, Illinois, which makes up a 916 square mile territory. In this area, they serve 47 counties in Illinois, which makes up about half the counties in the whole state. So far, they have treated roughly 1400 to 1500 animals this year, a number which has doubled since the start of COVID. Across the lifetime of their program, they have served over 30,000 animals. They have a staff of four people, and so about 90% of their work force comes from the selfless support of volunteers. Alyssa Abernathy, a RBGA member, said “It is quite amazing to see the work they have done in the Riverbend Community, but they are in need of support from people like us.” They are permitted to treat sick, injured, or orphaned animals that are native to Illinois or migrate through the state, excluding bats and skunks since Illinois is in the Mississippi Corridor where many birds migrate, this not-for-profit facility treats a wide selection of birds.

Their rescue and rehabilitation process is very thorough. When someone reports an injured animal, they send their transport and rescue team (composed mostly of volunteers) which brings the animal back to their facility. There, trained “rehabbers” work with a licensed vet to treat the animal for all its injuries or illnesses. Usually, these animals get healthy enough to be rereleased into the wild; however, some they have to euthanize in the case of fatal, crippling injuries. The animals also have bonded too much with humans or have a condition that prevents them from surviving in the wild; Treehouse Wildlife Center cares for them for the rest of their lives at the facility. Along with all their rescue and rehabilitation services, they also have an education platform designed to connect people back to nature and to develop habits to help them cooperate better with wildlife. They hope that one day they will teach the people they serve enough about wildlife that their services will no longer be necessary.

Last month, the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee met with Kelly Vandersand, the interim director and fundraising coordinator for Treehouse. She first discussed the role of Treehouse Wildlife Center and its general impact in the state at large. She then showed the Treehouse’s five eagles, who are all suffering from either injuries sustained by hunters or amputations that prevent them from flying. She also talked about and introduced the Young Adults Committee to some other raptors that are being put through rehabilitation. She ended the tour with some of the most famous animals at Treehouse Wildlife Center: Victor and Hazel. Victor is a barred owl who was illegally raised by an amateur breeder. When the breeder realized that she needed a federal permit to raise owls, she tried to release Victor. However, since birds domesticated at a young age are imprinted for life and thus cannot survive on their own, Victor could not survive in the wild. The breeder found Victor back at her house suffering from hunger and missing an eye. Victor was then given to Treehouse where he has lived ever since, charming and educating all the guests who come. Hazel is a Western Hog-nosed snake, a nonvenomous snake breed commonly mistaken for vipers or rattlesnakes. She was confiscated by the government at a reptile show after her owners were trying to illegally sell her. The government gave her to Treehouse Wildlife Center to raise awareness about how this species is suffering in the state of Illinois.

Both animals epitomize the mission of Treehouse Wildlife to rescue, rehabilitate, and educate the citizens of Illinois. Taylor Stanford, another member of the RBGA YAC said, “Animals like Hazel and Victor show us that animals have lives and stories just like us. It should be our mission to protect them.” All in all, the RiverBend Growth Association Young Adults Committee learned a lot about the duties of conservation in the Illinois area and also about Treehouse’s strategy of rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation. The RBGA YAC is proud to be partnering this year with a not-for-profit so dedicated to helping the environment.


Blake Schaper is the homeschool representative for Civic Memorial High School. He is part of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honors Society and is treasurer for Eta Sigma Alpha Honor Society. He hopes to go into a career that involves either mathematics, theology, computer science, or political science. He enjoys reading, exercising, and deep philosophical discussions.

Alyssa Abernathy is a junior at Civic Memorial High School. She is a straight A’s student currently taking honors classes and dual credit courses. She is a part of National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta. After graduation, she plans to attend a 4-year college/university to get her BSN. Alyssa hopes to one day become a pediatric nurse practitioner and work at the Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. In her free time, Alyssa likes to hang out with her friends and family and compete with her dance team. She also likes to travel and go to fun events such as concerts and professional sports games. Alyssa has been a part of the RiverBend Growth Association’s Young Adults Committee for one year now and plans to continue through her senior year as well.

Ben Werts is a proud senior RBGA YAC member and enjoys learning about nonprofits in the program. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and working outside of school. He is currently undecided about his future career but enjoys working with animals.

Taylor Stanford is a member of the National Honors Society and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honors Society. Taylor is very involved in her church youth group and plays Varsity tennis for Civic Memorial in the fall season. Taylor volunteers often within the children’s area at her church, this has helped her to develop a passion for children. Taylor plans to pursue a degree in elementary education and eventually become a lower elementary teacher.