While some fourth graders are passionate about sports and others may be obsessed with video games, or music, or puppies and kittens, it is rare to find one championing animals living thousands of miles away in the mountains of central Africa.
That rare fourth grader is Addy Barrett of Germantown. She is a Gorilla Hero who has dedicated hundreds of hours to help raise funds and awareness about the plight of the Mountain Gorilla.
Addy, with a bit of help of her mother, Sarah Barrett, and a bunch of friends and family has raised more than $1,000 through bake sales, lemonade stands and selling “Gorilla Heroes” tee shirts. All funds raised go to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
“I have always admired gorillas because I think it’s cool how much DNA we humans share with them,” said the Addy, the fourth grader at Fox Chapel Elementary School. “Ever since first grade, when I read a book about gorillas I have been interested in them. They are smart, intelligent, and get along with each other easily. It made me sad that they are endangered. I wanted to help them.”
According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the population of mountain gorillas is critically small — only 880 individuals remain, making them among the most-endangered mammals on the planet. The DFGF’s works to protect this species from poachers and loss of habitat due to deforestation — and Addy Barrett of Germantown has become a Gorilla Hero.
According to mother Sarah, it started with Addy making posters about saving the gorillas. “My first thought when she came to me and said, ‘Mom, I want to help the gorillas’ was ‘OK… we’ll see what we can do,” she laughed.
“She started making posters for the fun of it, and she asked if we could share them. So, the only way I knew how to share them through Facebook, so I started posting them on my Facebook account. And everyone was like ‘Yay, Addy!’ and that encouraged her to try to do more,” said Sarah.
The encouragement led to the creation of a website and social media accounts for Gorilla Heroes.
Her mom said the family had participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS back in the summer of 2014 when it became a viral sensation and raised millions for The ALS Association and they brainstormed about how they might be able to do something similar. Addy came up with a Pie in the Face. “We thought about how we could incorporate some sort of challenge to help raise funds,” said Sarah. “We came up with the Pie Face Challenge. While it never quite went viral like the Ice Bucket Challenge, it did give us a theme for raising money.” And it allowed more of the family to get involved.
Addy worked with her grandfather, a graphic illustrator, to come up with a logo for her website and social media accounts. “We made the tee shirt from there. We sold the tee shirts and raised funds, and then to incentivize our friends we said that for every person that buys a shirt Addy would take a pie in the face,” said mom.
Each pie to the face is captured on video and posted on social media and the website. Addy’s older sister, 13-year-old Emma, became the official “pier.” Isn’t that what older sisters are for, shoving pies in their little sister's faces?
Recently, on the last day of the tee shirt sale, Addy took 25 pies in the face and raised a bundle of money for her beloved gorillas.
Addy’s work over the last few years has gained the attention of some of the most important folks in the fight to save the gorillas. She’s been visited by David Singer, a member of the DFGF Board of Directors.
“It is wonderful that this 10-year-old girl is doing this,” said Singer, who lives in Springfield, Va. “When I heard that she had created this website and was raising money and that she lived fairly close I reached out and eventually stopped by to give her some goodies that I picked up when I was in Rwanda.” Singer gave Addy a hand-carved walking stick and some miniature carved gorillas.
Singer and Addy also exchanged pies in the face.
“It was really cool to meet Mr. Singer and have a contact with someone whose job it is stand up for the gorillas,” said Addy. “Now I know someone from the in the DFGF organization.”
Singer brought news of Addy’s fundraising efforts to the board meeting of the DFGF, and soon after, Addy received a letter from DFGF chairperson Judith Harris. The handwritten letter reads, “I was so impressed with your effort to help save the gorillas... Gestures of kindness and empathy resonate with the either and multiply. What you are doing is heroic. Always trust the power of a good deed. You have my deepest appreciation.”
“While we do have a very wide donor base nationwide, it is very unique that someone Addy’s age would be this passionate about gorilla conservation,” said Singer. “It really struck me that someone so young would spend years on this and really try to do something positive. I wanted to encourage her because the next generation of conservationists are 10- to 15-year-olds. I was thrilled with her dedication to the gorillas.”
Addy is not finished. She is already planning a sort of gorilla gala event for the summer where friends and family, and gorilla lovers of all ages would be able to gather and participate in various activities and the adults can have a painting party creating a canvas painting — perhaps of a gorilla. “It will be something that is more interactive,” said Sarah, “not just ‘Hey, buy something’ or ‘Hey, donate.’”
Addy said that she has had a number of additional requests for tee shirts. The Gorilla Heroes shirts have gone international with one gorilla enthusiast from London purchasing 11 shirts just this week. That means Emma will get to smash her sister’s face with a pie a whole lot more. If you are interested in supporting Addy, tee shirts can be ordered through Gorilla Heroes website or Facebook page.
Where will this all lead? Addy hopes to someday make her work saving the gorillas when she is older, which is a lofty goal for a 10-year-old. In the short term, Addy his hoping her connections with the folks at DFGF might lead to a backstage tour of a gorilla enclosure at a zoo.
Top: Addy Barrett,10, is a Gorilla Hero. She has been dedicating time and energy to raising funds and awareness of the plight of mountain gorillas. Her efforts have caught the eye of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, recently a member of the DFGF board gifted Addy with a gorilla walking stick from Rwanda.
Next: The Gorilla Heroes logo designed by Addy and her grandfather.
Next: Addy and her mother Sarah Barrett are the driving force behind the Gorilla Heroes website.
Next: Addy with a letter from Judith Harris, the chairman of the board of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, thanking Addy for her efforts on behalf of the gorillas. Photo courtesy Sarah Barrett.
Next: Mountain Gorillas Pasika and the infant Mashami, taken in June 2017. There are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Courtesy DFGF.
Photos by Germantown Pulse unless otherwise noted.