Feb 212010
Authors: Rachel Childs

Philanthropic drive overcame harsh weather Saturday at the 17th annual Rocky Mountain Raptor Program Gala and Benefit Auction that raised an estimated $40,000 and drew its largest attendance yet.

The gala, which attracted the attention of about 300 people, was welcomed help during the economic downturn, which has impacted the facility’s ability to care for its influx of avian patients.

“It’s a real tough time to be a non-profit,” said RMRP Executive Director Judy Scherpelz.

Funding was low to care for 322 injured birds this past year, a 26 percent increase from the 264 injured in 2008. And the center has a wish list that includes postage stamps, a 12- to 15-passenger van and next year’s $75,000 mortgage. RMRC officials estimated the gala brought in an estimated $40,000, however no final total was available Sunday evening.

The non-profit organization, which helps rehabilitate injured eagles, owls and hawks, hosted the fundraiser at the Fort Collins Hilton Hotel’s CSU Ballroom. Money was raised through a silent and live auction as well as private donations throughout the night.

Local businesses, artists and supporters –– the Buttercream Cupcakery, New Belgium Brewery and RMRP –– donated the items to the auctions.

Bidders during the live auction spent more than $10,000 on items including jewelry, art and trips for two.

CSU chemistry professor Steve Strauss and his wife, research assistant Olga Botalina, won $2,625 worth of goods, including a Goshawk Banding trip in Arizona.

“(The RMRP) is a fantastic organization,” said Strauss, who volunteered with the organization more than 15 years ago.

Seth and Erin McEwan put up $900 and won a two-night stay in Las Vegas at the Bellagio hotel.

Erin McEwan was a volunteer at RMRC for seven years and said she had great experiences with the organization.

“We have some really incredible loyal donors,” Kratz said about the generosity the center has received over the years.

Five raptors that live at the facility were on display as learning tools for guests. Volunteers handling the birds were excited to share their knowledge from being involved.

“It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” said volunteer trainer Marta Burkowski, who handled a female Peregrine Falcon.

CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital received RMRP’s Freedom Flight Award in appreciation for the free medical care that it has provided since starting in the 1970s as a student club.

CSU’s Matt Johnston, who has worked with the RMRP for seven years, accepted the award.

“It just solidifies the relationship we have with them,” Johnston said.
The night was entertaining, coordinators and attendees said, but saving injured wildlife remained the main goal.

“We’re all dedicated to helping raptors and wildlife in this state,” said RMRC Medical Associate Mike Tincher, who remained on-call to answer any new cases that arose.

“Raptors are such great, awe-inspiring animals,” said RMRP’s Educational Director Karen Avila. “They’re why I came, they’re why I stay.”
More information about raptors and volunteer opportunities can be found on RMRP’s Web site at http://www.rmrp.org.

Staff writer Rachel Childs can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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