SYCAMORE – Kathy Stelford, founder and president of Oaken Acres Wildlife Center, has been elected to a four-year term on the board of directors of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). Stelford, along with director of operations Christy Gerbitz and board member Lisa Gurman, returned recently from the NWRA annual conference.
“This is a huge honor and challenge for me,” said Stelford. “I decided it was time for me to share my knowledge and experience learned in DeKalb County with other independent rehabilitators who started their own centers like I did with Oaken Acres."
The NWRA is the largest organization in the world dedicated to helping wildlife rehabilitators help wildlife. It was established in 1982 by a committed group of Illinois rehabilitators and boasts a membership of almost 2,000. Its main focus is to support wildlife rehabilitators through education, support and networking. The mission of the NWRA is to improve and promote the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and its contributions to preserving natural ecosystems.
“I became a member as soon as I found about the NWRA, way back in the early '80s. Prior to this, about the only sources of education for wildlife rehabbers were a few books at the library, hands-on trial and error, and finding that one other person in your area who knew something about raising wild orphans,” Stelford said.
Stelford started her rehab career in the suburbs of Chicago after she began volunteering for Willowbrook Wildlife Center. In 1984, she sold her home in Bensenville and moved to the farm in rural Sycamore that would become Oaken Acres. Oaken Acres has taken in almost 12,000 animals since it opened in 1984.
"NWRA is pleased to have Kathy join the board of directors,” said longtime friend Sandy Woltman, current president of the NWRA.
Woltman said NWRA provides rehabilitators access to professionally-written peer-reviewed journals, discounted insurance, grants and scholarships, and an annual symposium that includes more than 100 presentations and hands-on workshops.
“I have benefitted so much from my membership in the NWRA and I want to make sure that others realize how significant continuing education and professionalism is in this work – a profession that many still see as just a hobby,” Stelford said. “There is so much to learn since almost every species’ needs are different. It’s not just playing with bunnies and letting them go."