What does it take to be a dedicated volunteer? Just ask eleven year-old, Bennett Van Every of Simpsonville. His deep love of animals gets him up every morning. For the past four years he has dedicated himself to rescuing wildlife. And it all started when on a family vacation he found a motherless Mallard duckling in a swimming pool. Bennett’s parents allowed him to bring it home with the understanding that he find a suitable place to rehab the duck. That place turned out to be Izzie’s Pond. This organization has become Bennett’s home away from home and where he devotes endless hours of volunteer time.
Izzie’s Pond is a safe and loving place with a mission of rescuing, rehabbing and providing refuge for injured or orphaned waterfowl, wildlife and farm animals. To support its work, this nonprofit raises public awareness and appreciation for animals through its community outreach efforts. “It is a place to teach and mentor children of all ages about the importance of respecting nature and the creatures found in it,” shared Lesley Birckbichler in a recent post on the Izzie’s Pond Facebook Page.
When Izzie’s Pond founders, Angel Durham and Greg Askew, moved into their Simpsonville home they had no idea the kind of life they would build there. And it all started with 4 pet ducks. Izzie’s Pond, named for their six year-old daughter Izzie, now takes in hundreds of animals each year; everything from ducks, geese, swans, tortoises, possums, foxes, bobcats, snakes and raccoons to goats and cows.
Wild animals are rehabbed and then released back into nature. Domestic animals are rehabbed and then adopted out to approved homes. Izzie’s Pond is an amazing resource for the growing number of abandoned, injured and orphaned animals. While at the same time it provides education in hopes of ultimately reducing the number of animals in need of their services.
As you might imagine this 24-7 operation that cares for literally 200 to 300 animals daily is an all-consuming commitment and requires lots of hands on deck. A critical ingredient is dedicated volunteers like Bennett Van Every. For the past four years Bennett has spent every possible moment at Izzie’s Pond giving it his all. He has become Angel Durham’s right hand. Bennett cleans cages, feeds animals, rehabs, provides medicine, goes on rescues…and does anything else that is needed.
Patrick Van Every, Bennett’s dad, is very proud of his son. “Bennett has a unique gift and finding Izzie’s Pond has truly been a blessing for him. We have nurtured his interest…which means we sometimes have to come out to Izzie’s Pond just to see him,” chuckled Patrick. “I encourage others to follow Bennett’s work with animals on his Facebook page – Bennett’s Backyard.”
Bennett is well known and respected in the local wildlife rehab community. He has received rehab training from Izzie’s Pond and PAWS Animal Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition he took an Opossum class from Keeper of the Wild. He is currently certified to rehab fawn, raccoons, possums and squirrels.
In addition to his volunteer work at Izzie’s Pond, Bennett has a possum rescue in the woods behind his home. At the time of this interview he had 11 young possums in his care. When Izzie’s Pond gets a call or tip on Facebook about a possum, they will often refer the individual directly to Bennett.
“The most common calls are about motherless baby possums,” shared Bennett. “Usually it is a case of a mother being hit by a car. Baby possums start out the size of a navy bean and live in the mother’s pouch. Eventually they ride on her back. I have cared for all ages. Of course, my goal is releasing them back into nature when they are ready. Sometimes these animals are with me for many months, but they are not pets!”
Bennett wishes more people understood and respected animals. He is sad when he sees a dead mother animal since he knows that there may be a litter of babies struggling in the wild. His goal, like that of Izzie’s Pond, is to promote peaceful coexistence with wildlife. Bennett is ready to educate anyone who will listen.
Izzie’s Pond is centered on the belief that once afforded the opportunity to connect to nature children, like Bennett, will steer towards it. By offering its land in the spirit of community outreach, the organization is poised to help children across the Upstate appreciate, respect and even love wild animals and the environment in which they live.
This year Izzie’s Pond has taken a major step towards accomplishing its long-term goals with the purchase of a new 30-acre property in Liberty. Over the next five years, the organization plans to develop a major educational center and children’s outreach ministry.
When I asked Bennett who should volunteer at Izzie’s Pond, he was emphatic, “First you must love and understand animals. Volunteering is a lot of hard work. You are not there to play with animals. You are there to help them.”
For more information about Izzie’s Pond go to www.izziespond.com.