11-year-old Aspen twins honored nationally for protecting African elephants | AspenTimes.com

11-year-old Aspen twins honored nationally for protecting African elephants

Crafting letters to world leaders, starting petitions and participating in global protests.

Saving an animal species from extinction is no small undertaking — especially when you are 11 years old.

But age has never deterred Aspen twins Isabella and Willow Poschman, who, last week, were named honorees of the 2016 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for their work against the plight of African elephants.

The Barron Prize is a national award that recognizes 25 young leaders who have positively and significantly impacted their community or the environment.

When Isabella and Willow were in second grade, their mother, Maureen, arrived home from work one day to find her daughters composing a letter to the presidents of the United States, China and Kenya.

The letter pleaded with the politicians to do whatever they could to end the sale and trade of ivory.

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"I was like, 'Wow, that's great!," Maureen said of the moment four years ago. "I thought it was fantastic that they were doing that."

Disturbed by what they had seen in local filmmaker Travis Fulton's "The Elephant in the Room," a shortfilm that traces the origins of an ivory figurine and offers a bloody look at elephants' plight, Isabella and Willow felt inspired to take action.

"It looked so brutal and so terrible. I thought, 'How anyone could do that?'" Isabella said of her reaction to the film. "I don't know, I just felt so terrible. I thought, 'We have to do something about it.'"

With the goal of saving elephants through education and raising money to help combat the ivory trade, Isabella and Willow founded their nonprofit group, Kids Saving Elephants.

The girls, who were 7 at the time, started a Facebook page for the organization, with help from Mom and Dad.

Kids Saving Elephants' Facebook page, which had more than 1,330 'likes' as of Monday, states its belief that children can make a difference and calls everyone to action.

When asked how they learned to navigate the social medium that's targeted mostly at adult users, both girls chuckled.

"We didn't," Willow said, with a laugh.

Maureen explained that she and her husband, Greg, helped facilitate some of their daughters' actions, like Facebook posts and phone calls, as Isabella and Willow do not have Facebook profiles or cellphones.

But the proud mama credited the bulk of the work and the drive to do it all to her girls, who are now in sixth grade.

"They do a lot of work, and most of it they do on their own," Maureen said. "(Gregg and I) always say, 'If you guys want to do something, you have to do it.'"

"It really was their motivation, their doing and their hard work."

In the past four years, Isabella and Willow have created and sold hundreds of elephant greeting cards, lemonade and cookies at the Aspen Saturday Market and Aspen Music Festival.

They also have presented the issue of elephant extinction to their classes at Aspen Middle and Elementary School.

But the girls' mission to save the African elephant has reached far beyond the local community.

In September 2014, Isabella and Willow protested elephant poaching at a global march in London.

The two also started a petition against the ivory trade that has signatures from people in more than 60 countries and almost every U.S. state.

In next month's issue of Elle Decor, one might find a letter from Isabella and Willow, who submitted a note to the editor of the interior design magazine politely requesting that the publication not promote the use of ivory decor in its designs.

The letter was prompted after images in the magazine's most recent edition featured "huge vintage ivory tusks," Willow said.

Elle Decor responded well to the girls' letter, Maureen said, by removing the photos from its online site and vowing to run the girls' letter in its next issue.

Since Kids Saving Elephants 2012 inception, the 11-year-olds have raised and donated more than $4,000 to wildlife conservation societies and trusts internationally.

When the twins aren't writing to politicians and advocating animal rights, like most children their age they enjoy playing soccer, violin and piano, along with ballet, skiing and swimming.

For more information on Isabella and Willow's efforts to save the African elephants, visit http://www.facebook.com/KidsSavingElephants.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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