Attention Jeep Owners!

Swap out your top with no stress or headaches

By Sue Baldani

In nice weather, what’s more fun than driving around with the top down and feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair? This is why many people love Jeep Wranglers. Owners can put down the soft top and enjoy the great outdoors, but when it gets cold, they also have a hard top that will keep them warm and dry.

But, swapping the tops and figuring out where to store the one that’s not in use is not fun at all. Friends and partners Lenny Blue, Scott Piper, and Michael Schwartz developed a solution to these problems and opened Swap Your Top in Livingston, which just celebrated its one year anniversary.

“I actually own a Jeep Wrangler and Lenny and Scott would help me change out the top,” says Michael. “It’s a hassle. It requires a helper and you have to be somewhat mechanically inclined. You also need a place to store it. Even if you have a garage, it takes up a lot of space and can get damaged.”

When Jeep owners make an appointment with Swap Your Top, they get their tops changed in a timely manner, and also know that the top they’re leaving behind will be placed on custom made racks in a climate controlled facility. “You leave with no headaches and no stress,” he says.

If someone is in need of a soft top, it’s also an authorized distributor for BESTOP, which Michael says is the number one aftermarket manufacturer of soft tops for Jeep Wranglers.

110 Dorsa Avenue

Livingston, NJ 07939

844-SWAP-TOP

https://swapyourtopnj.com/

Written for Suburban Essex Magazine in New Jersey.

A Path to Success

From homelessness to happiness

By Sue Baldani

Women experiencing domestic violence often have to flee with very little money and few belongings. They often do so after years of abuse and risk everything for a chance for a better and safer life.

Julie (a pseudonym) knows this well. Her husband beat her and belittled her for several years, and coming from an abusive childhood, she felt like she didn’t deserve any better. “I didn’t know how precious I was,” she says. “It was ingrained in me that people can do whatever they want to you.”

After a particularly vicious beating last year, Julie knew she had to leave – this time for good. She left multiple times before, but her husband always managed to find her. “I just packed a bag. I left my cell phone, my credit cards. I had less than $300,” she says.

Julie had a long journey ahead of her, and although he found her once, she managed to get away again. “I drove for hours; I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

It was during this drive that she heard a woman call into a radio show about her abusive husband. The show’s host, who is from Tennessee, told the woman she needed to get away from him and that she mattered.  

“That’s how I chose Tennessee,” says Julie. “I slept in my car for about two weeks and then I walked into the local police department. They got me into a shelter.”

It was this shelter that introduced her to a path to success through Resera, a jewelry company based in Nashville. “I founded Resera, along with Alexis Cook, in 2017,” says Corbin Hooker. “I had this growing sensation that I needed to try to do something to help the homeless, and from day one, our heart has always been about this mission. The jewelry has been a means to work with women experiencing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence.”

By partnering with other organizations such as Community Care Fellowship, the YWCA and Renewal House, not only are these women given jobs, but they also learn many skills, such as wax injecting, molding, chaining and distribution. Resera also partners with financial literacy coaches and career counselors who come onsite to help the women navigate these issues.

“Some women come in with a really clear idea of what their dream career is, and they can use this job as a stepping stone to stabilize, earn some money, develop some skills, and then go get that dream job,” says Corbin. “For others, they may come here and decide that this is their dream.”

“My case manager at my first shelter told me she thought I would be a really good fit for Resera,” says Julie. “I had no jewelry-making skills whatsoever, and when you interview with Corbin, he totally understands that.”

She was also able to get into another shelter, which offered her a lot more support than the first, including therapy. On January 1st, she went from being a maker (which is what they call the women at Resera) to the director of events. “I handle all of our events and do all of our outside sales because that’s my passion.” And thanks to her job at Resera, she moved into her own apartment on January 7th.

“I wake up and I fall asleep in my blessing every day,” says Julie. “It’s where I feel safe.”

She wants other women in her situation to know there is hope. “It’s not going to be easy to leave and you’re going to be so scared,” she says. “But I believe you can do it – you’re worth it! You’re going to start healing and you’re going to start dreaming. And those dreams are going to come true – like mine.”

Julie is a rockstar, says Corbin, and his dream is to grow Resera in order to support more women like her (he has helped over 20 women so far). He also wants to partner with other organizations to incorporate similar models. “It’s important to separate the trauma the women have been through and the person themselves,” he says. “You also have to recognize the legitimate barriers they face and come alongside them.”

Each piece of Resera’s high-quality and beautiful jewelry comes with a story of the person who made it. Just wearing it is impactful.

To support its mission, go to www.Resera.com/.

Written for Belle Meade Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Strong Women, Strong Families

How one mom persevered through tragedy

By Sue Baldani

What started out as a fun day at the community pool on May 21, 2019, ended in tragedy for Brentwood resident Lizz Krummel and her family. “We were at the pool with friends one evening and my husband Kurt went home to feed the dogs,” she says. “He was on a golf cart in swim attire and had on flip-flops. The best the police could put together was that he hit a manhole, his foot came off the side of the golf cart and then got stuck in the back tire and he was ejected from the cart.”

At the age of 42, Kurt Krummel, a bigger than life husband, dad and coach, died from massive head trauma. “We were just a regular Brentwood family – two working parents, two third-grade boys, and three dogs,” says Lizz. “We did yard work, we grocery shopped. You hear about tragedies on TV all the time, and I think everyone’s natural reaction is, ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen to people like us.’”

Sadly, it did happen to them, but fortunately for Lizz, she had incredible family and community support. They surrounded her and her twin boys, Roger and Cortland, who were only 8 years old at the time, those first few months to help in any way they could, even if it was just quietly sitting by her side.

“At first, accepting help was a tough one for me because I’m a pretty independent person,” she says. “But, there are some days where you just need someone to be there with you. I had a lot of friends that just sat with me and patiently waited until I was ready to talk or go to dinner or do whatever. They were just relentless in their care of me and my boys.”

Right after the accident, her parents and brothers traveled from Colorado, where Lizz grew up. Her mother, Lynn Lown, stayed on for the entire summer, becoming a pillar of strength for the family. Having been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2017 and enduring two years of chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy, she understood the challenges life can throw at you. Lynn finished treatment in March of 2019, and her son-in-law died that May.

“My husband absolutely adored her,” says Lizz. “He used to love when my mom stayed with us. For three months straight after the accident, she never left our sides. She’s just an incredible individual with everything she’s been through and survived. She’s on a plane at the drop of a hat, anytime I need something or have to travel for work.”

Lizz says she and her mom have always been incredibly close –  she was actually born on her mom’s birthday. Even before the accident, Lynn always made sure to visit regularly. She was a high school teacher and would come for long weekends, and now that she’s retired, she often spends a month or more with her daughter and grandsons to help out in any way she can.

Her father, Gary, has also been there for them. “My dad’s been a real trouper,” she says. “He was there through my mom’s illness, and he’s all in on whatever the boys and I need.”

In addition to being an unexpectedly single mom, Lizz is also a full-time healthcare executive. “I’m the vice president of human resources for a company based here in Franklin,” she says. “Our CEO and the group that I’m with not only respect me as a professional, but they also respect me as a parent.”

Adds Lizz, “I’m incredibly lucky in a lot of ways. I’ve got these two boys who are just amazing. Kurt died a week before their 9th birthdays, and their dad was all things to them. He was their little league baseball coach; he was their basketball coach. He was the head tennis pro at Old Natchez Country Club. He also coached all the kids in our neighborhood. So, it was a huge loss to them and the entire community in terms of the people he impacted.”

Her boys play with Showcase Baseball. “A friend of my husband’s, Drew Muirhead, took over coaching the team. [His son plays on the team and is her boy’s best friend.] I also volunteer coach on the team, and coached flag football for the first time ever this year. I will never shy away from the opportunity to be involved in my kids’ lives. Although it may not be the typical for mom to be out on the football field, the boys seem to be fine with it. We had a ton of fun and I think it is, quite frankly, one of the things that brings us so much joy as a family.”

Although there’s been a lot of grief during the last three years, Lizz feels grateful. “I have this incredible supportive community, friends who are just incredible people, and a wonderful family. I also have a really great career.”

Her advice to others who have also suffered a major loss: “I think if you can refocus and look at all of the things that are left in front of you instead of dwelling on how big your loss is, it helps you to keep going. You might not be okay today, you might not be okay tomorrow, but you will be okay. It’s been three years now – the boys are off to middle school and love it. Professionally, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Of course, says Lizz, the loss will always be there, and this time of year, around the anniversary of her husband’s death, is always difficult. “My mom, my grandma, the women in my life helped mold me. You have two choices – you can fold up your tent and quit or you can keep going. Moving forward is what I’ve tried to do and what I’m going to continue to do. I try to give my very best to my boys, to my family.

“I never want them to forget all of the great things their father did and who he was. And if they can live a really normal, happy childhood and life and be successful in all the ways I think they’re going to be, then that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee (unabridged version).

Surfing and Spinning on Top of the World

A Guinness World Record holder is upping his own ante

By Sue Baldani

Flying through the sky with a board strapped to his feet is Keith (KĒBĒ) Snyder’s idea of a good time. What began as a hobby back in 1995 took him to the X Games and eventually on to win the Guinness World Record for the most helicopter spins in the air during a jump.

“In 1994, I saw this guy spinning and saw the smile on his face and I wanted to know what was going on there,” he says. “To stand on something in the sky – I just wanted to experience that. You are literally getting to stand on top of the world. It’s a very empowering feeling when you’re flying through the air and I actually go into this meditative state when spinning.” At this point, he has completed over 6,500 jumps all over the world.

Sky surfing, says Snyder, began in 1988, and it progressed when people started adding in little tricks like flips and spins. “It grew and grew until you had an international community of sky surfers. The X Games were born in 1995, and sky surfing went to an explosive level of participation because you had ESPN pumping money into the sport. That core group got so good so fast it became hard to chase. That became my fuel for a while.”

Making it to the X Games in 2000 was a huge accomplishment. “The next year, they ended up dropping Sky Sports, but I started winning Nationals in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and came in third in the World Cup,” he says.

Snyder became so good that he began teaching others how to do it, and eventually opened a school in Arizona, where he was living at the time. “There’s probably 250 people I’ve guided on how to do it safely.”

Little did he know, his time in Arizona was coming to an end. In 2020, his father, Chris, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that can occur in the brain and/or spinal cord. “I was in the middle of a text conversation with my mother [Catherine] when my father passed out,” says Snyder. “The next day, they found tumors and were going to operate. I flew back to be with them as soon as he came out of surgery. About 24 hours later, I was in their house in Gainesville looking out the window and knew I had to move back here to be with them.”

Chris died in September of 2020 at the age of 71. “After my father passed away, my mom started pulling things out of his end table and I could tell that it was stuff that meant something to him. My parents have been together almost their entire lives, and she found letters she wrote to him when they dated. There was also a little envelope with some of the stuff written about me for sky surfing.”

Later in 2020, Snyder was invited to a Jump Like A Pharaoh event by organizer Mahmoud Sharaf of Egypt. He was introduced to Sharaf by Omar Alhegelan of Saudi Arabia, one of the camera flyers who films him. Sky surfing over the pyramids was something he dreamed of doing for years.

Of course, winning the Guinness World Record in November 2021 in Giza, Egypt with 160 helicopter spins was another unforgettable experience for him. And he’s not done yet. “The idea is to break this record one more time. Right now, that’s planned for the beginning of November and my goal is to do 180 spins.”

He’s also recently joined forces with a group called StacheStrong. “They’ve raised around $1.2 million for brain cancer and 99% of this money goes directly towards research,” he says. Snyder is going to help them add to this amount by taking pledges per rotation. 

“Skydive Orange of [ Orange, VA] is supporting this Guinness World Record & Brain Cancer Research fundraising effort by giving me sky surfing flight time. We have an arrangement for the practice flights I need in order to attain the level of performance necessary to set these new record levels.” Onelife Fitness in Gainesville is also helping out with a free gym membership.

In addition to all of this, Snyder is busy writing a couple of books on sky surfing, which are due out in the near future. One is a guidebook on sky surfing and the other will focus on sky surfing from an engineering point of view. “I’m an engineer by trade and worked with the Merchant Marine Academy, so I want to help people understand the dynamics.”

Today, he believes he’s where he’s meant to be. “I get to be with my mother and my family here in Virginia and continue to pursue sky surfing.”

To see Snyder’s Guinness World Record jump, go to https://vimeo.com/651641224/0b9d851875.  

Written for Haymarket/Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.

Creating with a Conscience

By Sue Baldani

Healthy and humane design practices for every home

When most people hear the word vegan, they usually just think of the food aspect. But, being vegan is a whole lifestyle. Risha Walden, of Walden Interiors in Millburn, successfully and beautifully incorporates her vegan beliefs into her designs.

“The biggest issue with interior design is that it’s not something people think about every day,” she says. “Most only think about those decisions maybe once every five to 10 years when they need to, say, buy a sofa.”

Using vegan interior design strategies, explains Risha, does not diminish the aesthetic or how you want the room to manifest. And, these design elements can be as luxurious as any other. “Luxury is about rejoicing in this paradise we’re in and to have that appreciation in your home. Your home should reflect the abundance you created for yourself.”

As a vegan interior designer, she has never felt that she’s compromised a client’s design. “There’s so much available and it’s about being aware of it,” she says. “I’m always researching and finding new and innovative products.”

Adds Risha, “Your home is supposed to work for you. I can make anything look beautiful, but when it’s beautiful and functional it makes life easier and happier.”

Alternatives to leather, wool and other animal products

Alternatives didn’t come to be because they’re vegan, but because people are demanding high-performing, durable, stain-resistant, and fade-resistant fabrics. They want to be able to purchase something that they can put in their home that looks and feels good and that they don’t have to constantly maintain.

The importance of sustainability

I’m always looking for durable fabrics for my clients such as polyesters and nylons. I understand that my clients want their homes to look as beautiful as possible for as long as possible and man-made fibers have that resistance and durability that frankly a lot of natural products don’t.

Natural is not always the healthiest choice

Even though leather is natural and should therefore be compostable, it really isn’t because it’s treated with chemicals. Those chemicals are actually toxic and there is some off-gassing.

Mixing the old with the new

I love to repurpose what people already have. When I go into a client’s home, we talk about creating the vision they want, and if I can reuse a piece – that can be reupholstering it, repainting it, or fitting it out for another use – I’m going to do it if it fits into the vision they want. I love old furniture because it’s usually better made or it’s something that’s important to them, maybe passed down from their grandmother, so there are many ways of reincorporated these pieces into the design.

To find out more about how Risha can create a luxurious, comfortable and healthy home for you and your family, go to www.walden-interiors.com

[side bar]

Alternative materials

Plant-based products such as leather made from apples, mushrooms, pineapples and cacti will be used much more in the future.

How demand creates supply

If we stop demanding animal products in home design, and start using more  alternatives, there will be a switch in thinking.

If it doesn’t work in your home, get rid of it

If a piece isn’t right for a room, or isn’t needed anymore, sell it or donate it.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Arm Yourself for Prevention

Tips on keeping skin healthy

By Sue Baldani

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and although melanoma is the skin cancer most people are aware of, it’s not the only deadly one. “Squamous-cell carcinoma kills more people now in this country than melanoma and basal cell carcinoma,” says Dr. Gerald Peters of Peters Dermatology Center in Bend. “Those are the two most common non-melanoma skin cancers and they cause a lot of damage.” So, when you’re protecting yourself against melanoma, you’re also protecting yourself against these non-melanoma skin cancers.

Here, Dr. Peters gives us advice on how we can do just that:

One – Timing and avoidance. The midday sun is strong, and it’s better to be out earlier and later in the day.

Two – Protective coverings. There are some really excellent UPF [ultraviolet protection factor] fabrics available now. Also, wear a hat and big sunglasses with UV protection in the 99% range.

Three – Topical solutions. Select products that have physical filters, agents or blockers. We’re talking about zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and for adequate protection, you want products that contain 5% or more of those ingredients. Don’t forget to protect your lips as well. 

Dr. Peters says he’s been encouraging patients to move away from chemical blockers. “They convert ultraviolet into infrared energy, but when you use a physical blocker it reflects the sun off the skin. They also work immediately, not 20 minutes after application.”

Peters Dermatology carries a wide range of high-quality, effective products such as EltaMD®, TIZO, and ALASTIN Skincare®. People often tune out when you speak of statistics, he says, but one thing many do care about is the way they look. “Photoaging makes you look old before your time because those ultraviolet rays destroy the elastic fibers in your skin.”

To find out more about how to protect your skin and get a skin cancer screening, go to https://www.petersderm.com/.

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

Create a Home Office That Works for You

By Sue Baldani

When many of us had to start working from home after COVID hit, we made do with whatever space and equipment we had available in our homes. We figured it was a temporary situation and so if it didn’t have enough light, or if we didn’t have a desk, or it just wasn’t very conducive to productivity, it wouldn’t last long anyway.

Now, two years later, some of us are still in that same unmanageable space, maybe permanently if we either started a new remote job or our bosses decided to close the office and allow us to continue working from home. So, isn’t it beyond time that we turn our “temporary office” spaces into professional and functional ones where we can comfortably spend eight and sometimes more hours a day?

If you’re squeezed into a spare bedroom, and find that extra bed that’s taking up so much real estate is almost never used, get rid of it. Instead, use that space for a good-sized desk, some file cabinets, a book case and/or a credenza on which to place your printer and other office equipment. Take advantage of the wall space and hang shelves for an even more organized layout.

If you can’t afford all new furniture, don’t worry. Go to a resale or thrift shop, search online used furniture sites, or venture out to garage sales. You can often find high-quality office items at great bargains and sometimes even for free!

Good lighting is also an important component of any functional office. Pick up a great desk lamp or hang a light directly over your desk so you’re not constantly squinting at your paperwork. Think of all the other things you used to have in your outside office that made your workflow more efficient, and bring those items into your home office.

If you don’t have a whole room to spare, that’s fine too. Pick a corner or choose one side to dedicate as your office space. Then, incorporate as much of the above recommendations as you can. I know someone who put a desk in her walk-in closet. It has a door, it’s quiet, and can be cozy if set up right.

Creating the right work space will let your productivity and creativity soar. You’ll also have a place that you look forward to going to every day. A positive attitude is the first step to having a great work day.

Love, Live, and Give

How two teens are making a significant impact both locally and worldwide

By Sue Baldani

While most teens were trying to stay busy during the lockdown by playing video games and interacting with others on social media, friends Dillon Elam and Connor Suscha wanted to do more. In July of 2020, they founded Tone 3.

“Tone 3 is a social enterprise focused on connecting as many people as possible to the organizations that make our area as welcoming and compassionate as it is,” says Dillon. “We do this by selling simple, stylish clothing with varying designs that allude to these essential organizations.”

Two-thirds of its profits are used to support six deserving mostly local nonprofits, while one-third goes into brand expansion. “Tone 3 is organized around three ideas that we believe serve as the fundamental motivations behind the majority of charitable acts in the community,” adds Connor. “Hence, all of the organizations we support are either focused on the people we love, this earth we live on, or the ways we can give back to people in need. Put simply –  Love, Live, and Give.”

Only 17 years old at the time, they say they knew they lacked both the platform and the expertise to intervene directly in the community and facilitate a positive improvement by themselves. “As a result, we began searching for a way to provide support for the organizations we knew already have considerable impacts, while still having a hand in bettering the community we appreciate so greatly,” says Dillon. “Our search concluded after we settled on selling nonprofit-inspired merchandise, and since then we’ve been sharpening our skills in pursuance of one simple goal – to recognize the most impactful members of our community by giving help to those who need it most.”

They began by selling T-shirts, and their goal was to produce them with a true purpose and also ensure they were comfortable, stylish and would appeal to people of all ages. They also wanted to be responsible stewards of the environment. “We started out with all of our shirts being heavyweight organic cotton, but now we have some made out of recycled materials as well,” says Connor. In addition to T-shirts, Tone 3 has expanded its offering to include pants, fleeces and accessories. And, the entire line is eco-friendly and made in a sustainable way with virtually zero waste.

The logos are on the smaller side, since they don’t want them to overtake the entire items. But, each one is big enough so people will notice it and hopefully ask the wearer about it.

In the beginning, the two friends handled everything themselves – from marketing and buying to ironing on logos (which resulted in a lot of burned fingers as well as T-shirts) and shipping. Now, most of the logos are embroidered by a local company, but they still handle every other aspect of the organization, while also attending college.

When it came time to decide on the organizations to support and partner with, they based their decisions on their virtues of Love, Live, and Give. “For our Love pillar, we chose the Dragonfly Foundation, an organization that aims to support the families of pediatric cancer patients,” says Connor. “We also chose a local company called My Bag My Story. Its founder creates homemade sewn backpacks, duffel bags, and things of that nature, and sells them online. Then, for each one that’s sold, she uses the proceeds to make an identical bag to give to a child in the foster care system. As a foster care mother, she often saw children piling all their belongings into black trash bags and felt it was demeaning.”

Under the pillar Give, they support Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, which assists the homeless. For its Live pillar, they give to the Coral Restoration Foundation and The Audubon Society.

“To know that we have the capacity to create this from one little idea and watch it grow into an organization that’s had the ability to influence the lives of so many people in our area in a positive way, is transformative and humbling,” says Connor.

Adds Dillon, “From something that went from building T-shirts on my bedroom floor to now having boxes full of clothing to ship out is just amazing.”

They would love for more people to wear their clothing and promote their mission. “We are a bridge for these nonprofits, and want to make people aware of their needs,” says Dillon.

To find out more and shop for merchandise, go to https://www.tone3nashville.com/.

A Survivor Speaks Out

Eradicating trafficking both here and across the world

By Sue Baldani

Andi Buerger, JD, founder of Voices Against Trafficking in January 2020, has a passion for helping those who have been trafficked. She can well understand their devastating ordeals since she experienced them herself.

“My voice as a survivor is important and has some influence, but what if we had more voices?” she says. “That’s the idea behind Voices Against Trafficking.”

While Voices is a national and international presence, it’s heavily vested in a regional presence here in Central Oregon. “We’re not political or religious,” says Andi. “We’re a human rights organization focused on getting the best information, the best ideas, and the best strategies out there to combatting trafficking in our neighborhoods.”

Voices produces and creates free international antitrafficking forums every quarter, which can be seen on Facebook and YouTube. “We talk about ways to divert predators, whether it’s by prevention, education, or awareness,” she says.

Andi also just published a book, Voices Against Trafficking – The Strength of Many Voices Speaking As One. “It’s another tool for awareness, prevention, and education and to inspire action.”

The nonprofit has a campaign going on right now. It’s looking for donations to get this book to every member of Congress, every governor and every attorney general.

Another way to help is to visit its website and click on “Add My Voice.” “Anybody anywhere in the world can add their voice to our roster for free,” says Andi. “We want to get a million names by the end of summer 2023. We can then take those names and continue to influence legislation against trafficking.”

An additional way people can support Voices is by joining one of its memberships, which helps keep its programs going, which is critical. “One of the other reasons I speak and do interviews is because I want people to know there’s hope,” she says. “If someone like me can make it, then really anyone can.”

To find out more, go to voicesagainsttrafficking.com, and if you need help for yourself or others, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733).

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

A Special Sanctuary

Acres and acres to explore and thrive

By Sue Baldani

Elephants are magnificent, intelligent creatures that are all too often taken from their natural habitats to be exploited in carnivals and circuses. Due to their unique needs, the care they receive isn’t always up to par.

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, these animals have a place to live out their lives in beautiful, natural habitats where all their needs are met. The sanctuary currently houses nine elephants on its 3,060 acres and has taken in a total of 28 elephants since it opened in 1995.

“Our elephants come to us from all over North America,” says Education Manager, Laura Roddy. “The majority of them were circus elephants, while some were confiscated by the government for violations against the Animal Welfare Act. Others were zoo elephants or privately-owned elephants.”

At the sanctuary, elephants receive individualized care for life. “Every elephant comes with a different history and different needs,” she says. “Shirley came to the sanctuary at the age of 51 after 20 years as a lone elephant in a zoo in Louisiana. Before that, her leg was injured in a circus. We had to learn how to work with her different ability. When Shirley passed away in 2021, she was 72 years old and the second oldest elephant in North America at that time.” On average, elephants live between 45 and 50 years.

Their current elephants range in age from 37 to 60: Billie just celebrated her 60th birthday; Sissy has been at the sanctuary the longest, arriving in January of 2000; and their most recent occupant, Nosey, came to them in 2017.

Historically, the Asian elephants and African elephants were always kept separate, but they have been doing introductions between an African and Asian elephant recently through a fence line. “They are completely different species from one another,” says Laura. “One of my favorite fun facts to tell students is that Asian elephants are actually more closely related to woolly mammoths than they are to African elephants. They also speak somewhat different languages.”

The sanctuary has a full-time veterinarian and veterinarian technician, one part-time veterinarian, plus on-site caregivers. They ensure all the elephants get plenty to eat and also have enjoyable enrichment activities, which helps keep them both mentally and physically stimulated. Sometimes it’s a rope toy that they hide snacks in and hang up.

Elephants eat between 200 and 300 pounds of food every day. In the summertime they’re out there eating as much vegetation as they want, but the sanctuary does supplement their diet with a specialized feed. They also love fruits and vegetables.

Overall, the Elephant Sanctuary has a two-part mission. “The first is to provide captive elephants with a safe haven dedicated to their wellbeing, and the second is educating the public on the complex needs of elephants and the crises facing elephants in the world,” she says. “We’re trying to talk about living in a sustainable place where both elephants and humans alike can thrive.”

A majority of their educational mission is done through distance learning. “We talk virtually to different schools all over the country and world on a daily basis,” says Laura. “Outreach is a way to hopefully change things in the future.”

Visitors are not allowed to see the elephants in person. “We are a true sanctuary, which means we are closed to the public,” she says. “Our elephants have worked all of their lives. They’ve been in circuses or show business or on exhibition in some way, shape or form, so we want to give them the retirement they’ve earned and not have to worry about guests. They’re just free to be elephants and live their lives.”

People can watch them on live-streaming EleCams, which are available 24/7. “We try to make sure there’s a view of an elephant, but because we have over 3,000 acres, sometimes there are no elephants on screen,” says Laura. “But, we think that’s okay because that means they’re out exploring and being elephants.”

People can also visit the Elephant Discovery Center at 27 East Main Street in Hohenwald. Here, visitors can learn about elephants and how the elephants are cared for at the sanctuary without actually being on site.

The sanctuary appreciates any and all donations in order to continue helping these exploited elephants live out their lives in peace and tranquility where they have the freedom to roam. “We are a nonprofit, so donations are always beneficial,” she says. “I really love the idea of being able to ‘adopt’ an elephant and feel like you’re attached to that elephant. It’s a wonderful way to create that symbolic connection between people and animals.”

Volunteers are also needed at its downtown Elephant Discovery Center. Even though people cannot work directly with the elephants, says Laura, they’re still helping and benefiting those elephants in some way. Another way to assist is by spreading the word about the crises facing elephants, such as poaching and declining habitats, and talking about ways to help.

To find out more, go to https://www.elephants.com/ or follow the Elephant Sanctuary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Billie
Nosey
Sissy