Truth in Advertising
Methamphetamine is all about hollowness: the hollow-eyed look of meth addicts after their bodies begin to consume their own muscle tissue and fat, and the hollowness of rural communities when meth moves in to destroy their peacefulness. Nowhere has the scourge been worse than in Wyoming, which was ranked first in the nation in rates of meth use among individuals aged 12 and over. Wyoming’s share of people in meth treatment was 4.4 times higher than the state’s share of the U.S. population, and more than a third of those admitted for treatment in the state were below the age of 25. Over 90 percent of drug prosecutions in Wyoming involved meth—putting untold strain on local law enforcement.
In the face of this catastrophe, the Wyoming Meth Project (an affiliate of the six-state Meth Project driven by philanthropist Tom Siebel) began changing attitudes toward the drug by combining standard drug-education programs with stark TV, billboard, and Internet ads aimed at teens. For example, in “Losing Control,” the camera is centered closely on a young teen’s face as books, clothes, and glass go flying around his head. The camera pans out to show the cause: the boy’s older brother is ransacking his bedroom looking for money. Other vignettes follow: the girl prostituted by her boyfriend; the family terrorized by meth-head burglars; the addict son pounding on his family’s front door at Christmas. The ads are both compelling and deeply unsettling; they work like a punch to the gut.
And they seem to be helping: the latest Wyoming health-attitudes survey finds that after several years of exposure to the project, Wyoming teens have elevated “perceptions of risk” associated with meth use, including “getting hooked,” “suffering brain damage,” and “having sex with someone I don’t want to.” Now 87 percent of teens in the state report that the Wyoming Meth Project’s ads helped them understand that meth is more dangerous than they had originally thought. —Justin Torres
“Bozeman is the Holy Grail of fly fishing.” So says Tom O’Connor of Warriors and Quiet Waters, a Montana-based charity that takes service-injured veterans on weeklong trips to learn the sport and spend time in nature. For many participants, the trip is a short vacation from an intensive and lengthy recovery at a military hospital. They are housed in a log cabin outside of town, fed by local “moms,” outfitted with all the gear they’ll need from the last remaining U.S. manufacturer of fishing clothing, taught and led by professional fishing guides, and joined on blue-ribbon streams by local companions. As O’Connor explains, “We decided when we started that we were going to do this right.”
Since its inception in 2007, over 200 servicemembers have gone through the program in groups of six. The progression remains the same with each cohort—initial apprehension followed by deep relaxation. So striking is the change from Day One to Day Six that O’Connor’s wife often “can tell by looking at the photos which day of the week it is.” Six attendees enjoyed the program so much that they moved out to Bozeman after completing their recovery—they are currently in college at Montana State.
Remarkably, most of the donations that support each attendee (at a total cost of $4,300) come from small local donors—the organization’s median donation is $110. It is broad support, not major wealth, that keeps Warriors and Quiet Waters in business. Speaking of one local supporter, O’Connor says, “I know I can count on a little old lady at the retirement home to send us $25 per month.” —Thomas Meyer
Saving the Winged Cheetah
The peregrine falcon is the fastest creature on earth. When it spots prey with its piercing eyesight, it shrieks down out of the sky at more than 200 miles an hour.
Yet in 1970, the U.S. peregrine falcon was nearly as dead as the dodo. In the lower 48 states there were only 39 known breeding pairs left. The bird’s recovery since then is one of the dramatic ecological success stories of our times, and philanthropy is a star player.
Once measures had been taken to curb overuse of pesticides that were weakening falcon eggshells, the government launched efforts to repopulate the bird. They failed. Enter Tom Cade. When Cornell University offered him a job at its famed ornithological lab, he agreed—on condition that it support his efforts to test ideas for restoring the peregrine. A $125,000 grant from IBM was earmarked for the purpose. Then other donations began pouring in, including many small ones from individuals who, like Cade, had taken up the sport of falconry.
Instead of trying to breed adult birds, as the government had, Cade’s philanthropic project hand-reared hatchlings and kept them in captivity for use as breeders. Within a few years, the Cornell group was releasing scores of young birds into the wild, and discovering how to keep them alive until they learned to hunt on their own. The researchers concluded, counterintuitively, that one of the best places for artificially incubated peregrines to make the leap back into the wild was the downtown regions of major cities. Skyscrapers and bridges served as cliff-like roosting and nesting places, free from the owls and eagles that were devouring juvenile falcons released into the wilderness. Urban pigeons were ideal food sources for the young hunters.
The Peregrine Fund has been located on a bluff near Boise, Idaho, since 1984. Throughout its history, it has been supported by thousands of private donations that cover operating costs, plus an endowment given by donors such as Lee Bass, Roy Disney, Julie Wrigley, and Hank Paulson. Thanks to its efforts, many thousands of endangered birds have been released into independent life. The peregrine falcon thrived to the point where it was removed from the endangered species list in 1999. “Private philanthropy was indispensable,” summarized Adam Meyerson of The Philanthropy Roundtable, “as it is for almost every initiative that challenges conventional wisdom.” The fund has more recently produced chicks to help restore the California Condor to the Grand Canyon, the Aplomado Falcon to the southwest, the Harpy Eagle to Central America, and the Mauritius Kestrel to Africa.—Karl Zinsmeister
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