Saving endangered species and building awareness about plastic pollution in the world are only two of the things on the minds of nine-year-old Olivia and 11-year-old Carter Ries. They are the cofounders of One More Generation (ONG) — a nonprofit organization working to help endangered species survive through education. Their goal is to keep these majestic animals around for, at the very least, another generation. Recently, OMG entered the Toyota 100 Cars for Good challenge through Causes.com…and won a car! Last week we called Jim Ries, father of this great sibling duo, to tell us about OMG’s origins, their future plans, and what their new car means for them.
It all started after Olivia, then seven-years-old, asked her dad why the family participated in a program to adopt cheetahs. Jim, recounting the story to us with enthusiasm, said, “I tried to put it in perspective, so I told her, ‘There may not be cheetahs in the future.’ [Olivia] immediately started crying and said, ‘I want to save cheetahs for my kids.’” Trying to appease his daughter, Jim told her she could definitely create an organization when she was older to help. Olivia’s interpretation was crystal clear. “She basically thought, ‘Daddy said we’re starting a company.’”
In 2010, Jim helped Olivia and Carter file for 501(c)(3) status for One More Generation. Then, the Gulf oil spill of 2010 happened. “We all saw the images of animals covered in oil and Olivia immediately said, ‘What are we doing about this problem?’” The family jumped into action and found out how to help. Cleanup crews were starving for supplies. “We were given a list of animal rescue supplies and the kids went door-to-door, gave presentations, and told people why they needed supplies to help animals affected by the oil spill.” A few days later, OMG arrived with a van full of donated supplies from their community. It was a moving moment for a supportive father and his family. “As a parent, I couldn’t have been prouder. I put my blinders up at first because I didn’t know where to start, and I thought [British Petroleum (BP)] would just take care of it. But kids, they don’t see things like that; they don’t see the hurdles; they just see a problem and they want to solve it.”
Understanding Plastic Pollution
The organization has now bridged its endangered species awareness efforts with a plastic pollutions awareness campaign inspired by a University of California, Berkeley professor who asked the organization a simple question: what was OMG doing about the cause of species endangerment? Jim said, “That’s when we first heard of plastic pollution. We had never addressed the issue. We spent the next five months educating ourselves about plastic pollution. On Carter’s 10th birthday, we launched a plastic awareness coalition.”
To date, OMG has coordinated a 68 organization coalition focused on educating people about plastics and the damaging effects on ecosystems everywhere. “Our goal is not to tell people what to do, but to educate people on the issue about plastic pollutions that they will then make voluntary changes that will then mean changes in the community without mandates. We are still 100% about endangered species, but we’ve added an environmental component because the two go hand-in-hand.”
When it came to the 100 Cars for Good challenge, Jim wasn’t aware that his sister had independently entered OMG. He immediately went into action-mode. “I don’t know much about social media but [OMG] is trying to figure things out. You have to be savvy, you have to know how to reach out and get people energized. Using causes made life so easy for us: we built the page, made updates, and it went viral from there.” When it came to promotion, OMG noted that the pledge page they created was like having “extra man-power.”
Olivia and Carter spend a majority of the year traveling across the country, meeting with mayors and church leaders, to educate communities about recyclables, precycling, and the variety of plastics in the world. Recently, OMG met with five different mayors, including the Director of Sustainability in the city of Atlanta, to talk about adding the organization’s plastic awareness curriculum to city schools. The new car — delivered later this year — will be a critical addition to what this family, and OMG as a whole, can accomplish. “We travel across the country in our own vehicle. Our donations don’t go to vehicle maintenance and repair, and we’re constantly in the repair shop. Winning the vehicle is a big relief, financially, but it also allows us to travel and bring environmental education and endangered species awareness programs to schools and churches everywhere.” That’s enthusiasm and dedication we can all get behind.
Visit One More Generation’s website to learn more about their programs, curriculum, and adventures!