Janessa Williams

Hamburg freshman Janessa Williams, 15, will participate in the Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program June 26 to July 4. As a fundraiser, she is collecting new and slightly used shoes, boots, sandals, and flip flops for Funds2orgs.

A Hamburg Area High School freshman is collecting shoes to help those in need while raising funds to participate in an ecology program this summer.

Janessa Williams, 15, will participate in the Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program June 26 to July 4.

As a fundraiser to help fund this trip, Williams is collecting new and slightly used shoes, boots, sandals, and flip flops for Funds2orgs, which travels to developing nations to set up small businesses where economic opportunity and jobs are limited.

“The shoes they collect serve as a bridge to give people a working opportunity. They sell the shoes in their communities, which create business, improving income, and promoting commerce,” writes Williams in her shoe drive letter.

Williams will host a Shoe Drive on June 1 at the Hamburg Salvation Army Family Store from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 1. Shoe donations can also be dropped off at Journey Cafe until June 15. Her goal is to collect 100 bags with 25 pairs of shoes in each bag. She will be paid from Funds2orgs for her efforts.

“I am excited about my shoe drive and I know that most people have extra shoes in their closets they would like to donate. The shoes will be giving people a second chance around the world,” said Williams.

During the Ecology Program, Williams will work with Yellowstone National Park scientists on habitat restoration and bison grazing projects, observe the Lamar Valley wolf packs, visit Yellowstone’s geothermal features, mud pots, colored pools, and hike the park’s trails.

“I’ve always wanted a career in something like this,” said Williams. “I’m going to enjoy being out there and trying to make a difference. I just want to know that I’ve accomplished something in my life.”

Her mom, Stephanie Harding, has been very encouraging and supportive, “I want her to have that experience and just have that growth, learn that there’s a bigger world than just right here.”

She feels this will be a great experience for her daughter.

“This just fits her and I think it’s a great to start planning now and having experiences to see if this is something she connects with and really enjoys doing or not,” said Harding.

Williams has a big tapestry in her room of a large bison that says, “Roam Free.”

“I guess you could say bison are my favorite animals. They’re massive but they also have a lot to do with American history.”

Williams is looking forward to learning about Leave No Trace camping and studying wolves and bison.

“We’re working with actual scientists. It’s very involved,” she said.

Williams heard about the program from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary educator Jamie Dawson during Hamburg High’s recent Career Fair. In April 2018, Dawson participated in a Teacher Fellowship in Yellowstone with Ecology Project International.

“This was an absolutely amazing experience and I was excited to offer this opportunity to students within the Hawk Mountain community,” said Dawson.

This year, Hawk Mountain partnered with Ecology Project International to offer students the once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore the landscape and wildlife of Yellowstone while working with the National Park Service in remote regions of the park to conduct important conservation science field research, said Dawson. A comprehensive application process includes a mandatory physical and doctor’s clearance for participation, as the course includes intense physical exercise at times, hiking long distances and group camping in remote wilderness areas.

Serving as the chaperone, Dawson will accompany Williams and one student from Canada. In Yellowstone, they will join another high school group.

“It has been a pleasure getting to know Janessa and her family as we prepare for this epic Yellowstone adventure! I was impressed by Janessa’s excitement to immerse in the wilderness of Yellowstone and to be camping in remote areas of the Park. Also, I’m so happy that she will have the opportunity to participate in bison conservation field research, as she has expressed that she has always had a strong interest in bison,” said Dawson. “The fundraiser that Janessa is working on for this trip is quite moving and meaningful. She has networked with Funds2orgs to collect donations of used shoes to benefit communities in developing nations. If anyone has used shoes they’d like to rehome, send them to Janessa!”

Dawson hopes the students acquire hands-on experience and skills in conservation science field research techniques; gain a greater understanding of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and wildlife; develop camping, hiking, and wilderness skills; and network with the National Park Service and other leaders in the field of conservation science; as well as improve personal confidence, empowerment and connection with the natural world. Also, she hopes they feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in contributing to greater cause that is working to preserve the invaluable landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife.

“Yellowstone is one of the most stunning places that I have experienced! I’m so excited to share in this awesome, life-changing experience with our students and to be there for them in support and mentorship,” said Dawson.


Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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