“Love art? Love animals?” This was the slogan on the recruitment flyer for a unique experience that Jubilee Mennonite Church, Bellefontaine, Ohio, offered its local community in 2021. 

The five-month curriculum, entitled, “Here Today,” introduced children in grades one to six to endangered species of all sorts. The study culminated in a weeklong daycamp where the children created wooden representations of the animals each chose as a focus. A 2020 Green Mustard Seed grant from Mennonite Creation Care Network helped to fund the project.  

Every month, the 17 participants received a packet containing information on five endangered species. Karla Kauffman, who wrote the curriculum, chose representatives from all continents plus the ocean. She took pains to include both large, charismatic species–such as the Western lowland gorilla– and less well-known creatures such as plants, mussels and fungi.  Children learned that the threat to biodiversity is not just something that happens far away; in Logan County where they live, the Indiana bat, the spotted turtle and the swamp metalmark butterfly are among the endangered. The species chosen were named endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and/or by governments. 

During the day camp, the children worked with Sam Bartlett, an Indiana artist, to create wooden sculptures depicting the creatures that caught their interest. They also wrote six-point stories about the animals and presented these at a Here Today community event on July 2. 

Jubilee took publicity for the event seriously, advertising through many local channels. In fact, the Bellefontaine Examiner did a front-page article with photos a few days before the event. Over sixty people came to see the church yard, alive with colorful renditions of a bluefin tuna, a golden-cheeked warbler, a black-flanked wallaby, two versions of the Indiana bat and other species.

The audience munched on earth-friendly cookies and took part in a quiz on the six Logan County endangered species that were included in the project. Prizes included leftover fair trade items left over from the cookie baking and a BirdsBeSafe cat collar. The sculptures remained on the church lawn for a month. 

Photos show Abigail Reed with the bat she created and JD Forsythe with his golden-cheeked warbler (Texas). The other animal in the latter picture is a black-flanked rock wallaby  (Australia).