Bonnie Westerveld sits at a desk in her East Orange County home and fields calls all day and night from people who are trying to help injured and orphaned wildlife.
She says her phone rarely stops ringing.
“This happens a lot,” she laughs, before picking up one of the many calls she received while we were there. Westerveld is a full time volunteer for Back To Nature Wildlife Refuge. Calls to the organization’s hotline get transferred to her.
The Orlando nonprofit’s mission is to rescue, raise, rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned Florida native species. The 20-acre property also features a wildlife walk dedicated to education.
Westerveld was a volunteer at Back To Nature Wildlife Refuge until illness made it difficult for her to work on site.
“A lot of people with chronic illness feel useless,” Westerveld said. " And people keep reminding me all the time that they’re so thankful that I’m there.
One of those who is especially thankful, Debbie Helsel, Back To Nature, Executive Director. Helsel nominated Westerveld for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
“Bonnie, she’s our first line of defense,” Helsel said. “She’s the voice that people hear when they call and she’s, oftentimes, the person that calms them down.”
Helsel gave News 6 a tour of the Back To Nature clinic. An assortment of animals in various stages of care were in the room.
“It’s a little slow right now,” Helsel said, pointing out the squirrels, birds, turtles and rabbits. “We have a lot of animals but usually we have a whole lot more.”
Helsel points out that nearly all of them ended up here after someone made a call to the Back To Nature hotline and talked to Westerveld.
“I kind of refer to her as our Charlie of Charlie’s Angels where you know the voice but you never get to meet her,” Helsel laughs.
Westerveld says calls come in from eight counties across Central Florida.
She says her phone got even busier last year when more people were staying home due to the Coronavirus quarantine. They noticed the wildlife in their yards. “People were more aware of their yards this year. They’re out, and I don’t know how many people say ‘you’re giving me an education.”
“We’re just beyond words grateful for Bonnie and truthfully I don’t know how we would do our work without her,” Helsel said.
Westerveld has been answering calls for years and it’s clear she loves helping. She does admit though, talking on the phone is not her favorite thing to do.
“I prefer to talk in person, to see the person. I’ve always been that way,” she said.
You can reach Back To Nature Wildlife Refuge at: 407-568-5138 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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