What do English class and Appalachian black bears have in common? Three dedicated UT students.
Hannah Marley, freshman in English; Madison Rasnake, freshman in journalism and electronic media; and Lauren Jenkins, sophomore in public administration, were assigned a project in their public writing class, ENGL 257, to use social media as a fundraising tool for a nonprofit organization of their choice.
After perusing lists of potential organizational partners, Marley said she came across Appalachian Bear Rescue and was intrigued by the group's goal.
The primary mission of ABR is to rescue and rehabilitate bear cubs who have been injured or orphaned in the wild with the intention of returning the cubs to their natural habitat. Since its inception in 1990, the organization has aided more than 180 black bears from its facilities in Townsend, Tenn., at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
"After reading about their mission and looking through photos and videos of the 196 bears they have rescued, I knew that they were an organization dedicated to their cause and the welfare of the bears in their care," Marley said. "They were creating real change for a cause I cared about, and I wanted to be a part of that."
So began "Track-A-Bear," the name given to the students' fundraising website. Now aiming for a $4,000 target, the three intend to use their earnings for the purchase of bear tracking collars. Tracking collars allow ABR to follow the movements and progress of its bears after reintroduction to the wild environment, information Marley said is crucial to the effectiveness and improvement of the ABR's work in rehabilitation.
"Until recently, once ABR bears were released, no news was good news," Marley said. "ABR only received feedback on their bears' progress if they had gotten themselves into trouble somehow."
Interactions between bears and humans, particularly the feeding of wild bears by people, have led to the disruption of the natural pattern of life for many bears. Habitat loss and poaching, Marley said, are what she believes to be the main reasons so many orphaned cubs have been brought to the ABR's doors.
As the semester has progressed, Marley, Rasnake and Jenkins have received an outpouring of support toward their goal of $4,000.
"We started with an initial goal of $2,000, which we have since surpassed," Marley said. "We have had a great response to our campaign, and our success has given us the confidence to double our initial goal and buy not only one, but two tracking collars."
Rasnake said she is particularly captivated by the individual rescue stories of ABR cubs and is glad to play a part in the conservation of one of Appalachia's most important residents.
"I have lived in the Appalachian area my entire life," Rasnake said. "Visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you can see the black bear everywhere. It's a symbol of our heritage and pretty much a mascot of the Great Smoky Mountains, and we have to preserve it for future generations to see."
For Marley, the opportunity to positively impact a life, be it animal or human, is the greatest reward for the work of the ABR and her own team's fundraising efforts.
"I care about them because when I look at them, I see another living being that sees and experiences the world just as I do," Marley said. "A being that, without assistance, will die.
"I feel an obligation not just as a student and a resident of Tennessee, but as a human being, to do what I can to ensure that these bears get their second chance at life."