2/17/2010 1:00:08 PM
By Elliot Mann
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Seven-year-old Justin Kopp had an offer from his parents to visit Disney World for Christmas, but he shrugged it off.
“He said, ‘It’s a bunch of dressed-up people, I want to go see real things,'” Justin’s father Brian recalled.
Justin started collecting aluminum cans last year after reading about jaguar conservation efforts in National Geographic. He wanted to book a plane ticket to Belize to see the real animals, which he had been helping through his effort, “Cans 4 Cats.”
He enlisted his sister Kate, 5, and created a brochure detailing his wishes to collect aluminum cans and raise money for Panthera, a charity that funds wildcat conservation. The pamphlet was handed out around the neighborhood.
“I thought, well, we could turn in our aluminum cans and maybe our neighbors’ (cans),” Brian said. “Then it became people at my wife’s work were dropping off cans.”
Through that first try, Justin raised about $250. Then he designed T-shirts online and raised another $300, his father said. For his third act, Justin decided to sell some of his toys through a family friend’s rummage sale and pulled in another $250.
The family eventually traveled to Belize and Justin got to see live animals in the field and up-close at a zoo. Someday, Justin hopes to become a zoologist.
Justin’s parents couldn’t believe their son’s focus.
“It’s one of those things, where you go, ‘Wow, you’re 6 and you want to make a difference.’ And then not just talk about it, but actually do something,” Brian said.
He joked that Justin must have gotten the “incredible drive” from his mother, Sandy.
“The wanting to make a difference you would like to think is from the both of us, but it’s far beyond either of us,” Brian said.
And now, young Kate is now just as involved.
“It’s just been great to see both of them, when they get money for their birthdays from aunts and uncles, and they put it in the ‘Cans 4 Cats’ envelope,” Brian said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org