When James Worden’s school service club was considering what kind of project to take on, he knew he wanted his vote to go toward something that would help sea turtles.
James, a sixth-grader at Hilburn Academy in Raleigh, had learned that every species of sea turtle that lives in U.S. waters is on the Endangered Species List.
“They’re all very close to extinction,” he said. “I was like ‘Wow, they don’t have a lot of chances to survive, so I think they need the most help of all.’”
The service club, founded by James’ friend and fellow Hilburn sixth-grader Joe Reter, ultimately decided to take on a different project. But James and Joe were still concerned for sea turtles, so they got to work on their own.
They named their project Towels for Turtles, and they hit up friends and neighbors and, on a very successful whim, the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord for donations of used towels.
The goal, James said, was to collect “more than 100,” and in the end they had bags filled with 137 towels, blankets and tablecloths.
The donations went to the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, or NEST, an Outer Banks-based nonprofit that works to protect sea turtles and their habitats in the state’s beaches and waters. The group’s volunteers use towels to warm and transport turtles in distress.
Last month, Marilyn Seal, chairwoman of NEST’s education committee, made the long drive to Raleigh to visit the boys’ school, where she talked to first- and sixth-graders about sea turtles and accepted the donated towels.
“She was very thankful for all the towels that we donated,” James said. “When we gave her all the towels, it was so much that it filled up her entire car.”
Joe was happy to see their hard work pay off in a way he knew would help turtles in need.
“I felt kind of happy because I know that they were going to a very good cause,” he said. “We don’t see, but (sea turtles) really help our environment in a lot of ways.”
The project was a lot of work for a two-person team, but Joe and James got help from their families, and they knew they could rely on each other.
They became friends in fifth grade, when they were cast in a play together.
“He was a mouse with these really huge ears,” Joe said of James, and Joe played a fox, with a costume that involved tights had big fluffy hat. But despite their whimsical beginnings, the duo knew how to get serious when it came time to work on their sea turtle project. Working with a friend on something like this was more fun, Joe said, but it also made the project stronger.
“You can trust your friend to partner with you,” he said.
Joe’s mom, Vicki Reter, said the boys learned a lot about giving back to the community through this project.
“Somebody young who thinks they probably aren’t really able to do a lot can actually make a big difference, especially when they work together,” she said. “You get one person helping, and then two people helping, and it just starts to grow and evolve.”
The Towels for Turtles project is over, at least for now, and the boys are looking forward to diving into the next project their school service club picks. But there may be more towels and turtles in their future.
“I want to turn this Towels for Turtles project into sort of like a normal thing,” James said. “Always collecting towels and always willing to donate.”
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