My animal rights activism and my founding of Students Promoting Awareness of Animal Rights (SPAAR), Gainesville High School's first ever animal rights club and Sarah Lawrence College's animal rights club has proved to be the most rewarding in educating others on animal rights issues and making positive changes through campaigns. Since I founded SPAAR, over 20 chapters of SPAAR all over the U.S. have been started by other dedicated and passionate teen activists.
After I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of twelve, I resolved that I could not sit back and say nothing while others continued to harm animals without thinking that they were doing anything wrong. I began to write letters to the editor in the local newspaper on a variety of animal rights issues. As you can imagine, my activism was not greeted with open arms in a Southern community that prides itself as being the "Poultry Capitol of the World." But it is necessary for others to question their habits and traditions or to at least be conscious of opposing viewpoints, and I have continued to rattle cages (especially when hunting season starts or the circus comes to town). To date twelve of my letters to the editor and guest columns have been published in The Gainesville Times.
I have been selected to be a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA's) Volunteer Writers' Network, as well as being featured in their Grrr! magazine as a "Rebel with a Cause." During high school I have frequently written letters and articles for our school paper, and I have had essays published in two national magazines, Veg News and Teen Ink. My essays have also been featured for the website, VegetarianTeen.com, and I have also conducted interviews with other world-renowned activists including PETA Co-Founder/President, Ingrid Newkirk, veterinarian, Andrew Knight; and "YES" Founder/Co-President, Ocean Robbins.
My freshman year in high school, having had some experience with writing and having successfully petitioned my middle school cafeteria for vegetarian options, I decided to start an animal rights club. SPAAR has been extremely active, participating in a wide range of local, national, and global events. I have been interviewed by a local radio station and my local newspaper on events we've held for National MeatOut Day and World Farm Animals Day. SPAAR regularly creates displays for our school library, hands out leaflets and free samples of vegan foods, holds open video showings, and volunteers at the Humane Society or brings puppies to an Alzheimer's and nursing homes for pet therapy. AnimaLearn has donated a digital frog computer program to us which we in turn have donated to our school's science department. Conscientious objectors to dissection can now have an alternative assignment, and the science teachers were so excited about the program that no animal dissections were held that year. SPAAR was featured in AnimaLearn's Activate newsletter for this accomplishment, and Connecting With Kids Network interviewed me for a national news story on dissection. SPAAR participated in the World Lab Day Demonstration at Emory University. For many of our members it was their first protest and first time being interviewed by the news media. SPAAR held a special showing of the anti-fur documentary, The Witness, open to all Gainesville High School students, and I also wrote a piece about this event for their Tribe of Heart newsletter. In high school, I was featured as PETA's first-ever "Superstar for the Animals," which was quite an honor and recognition for the work I have done.
At Sarah Lawrence College, SPAAR has hosted school and community-wide events, including guest speakers, PETA Vice-President Bruce Friedrich; Peace Abbey Award Winner, Eddie Lama; and Farm Sanctuary’s Harold Brown. SPAAR at SLC has also successfully campaigned for the college to only use cleaning products not tested on animals and petitioned for SLC's cafeterias to now sell only cage-free eggs. SPAAR also annually hosts a Shelter-Pet Alliance Adoption event on campus for the members of the Yonkers community, with over 20 animals adopted as a result each time. After I won PETA2’s College Activist Award, the world’s largest animal rights youth organization, publicity included a story in the Access North Georgia local newspaper and WDUN local radio station as well as the SLC newsletter and the local newspaper in Bronxville, New York.
But perhaps the most rewarding effect of my animal rights activism and founding of SPAAR are the emails responding to our website I receive from students all over the nation thanking me for my guidance and advice in starting their own animal rights clubs.