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Austin fourth-grader launches initiative to help Australian animals after fires

Nicole Villalpando,
In this image made from video taken on Dec. 22 and provided by Oakbank Balhannah CFS, a koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney. [Oakbank Balhannah CFS via AP, File]

Kate Gilman Williams is at it again. The 10-year-old Trinity Episcopal School fourth-grader last year started the nonprofit organization Kids Can Save Animals and wrote the book “Let’s Go On Safari” about the things she learned about endangered animals on a trip to Africa.

Now she’s started Quarters for Koalas to help raise money for the Adelaide Koala Rescue Center.

She is mentoring the third grade at Trinity to spearhead the project there, and she’s also inspired friends to start a drive at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School. The Westlake High School dance team is also doing a drive.

In March, Kate will travel to the rescue center to see their work on the ground and bring donations to them during her spring break. She’ll also travel to Kangaroo Island where one-third of the island burned.

“I’m going to go look at the devastation,” she says. She wanted to see climate change in action, she says.

Kate got the idea for Quarters for Koalas when she learned that more than a billion animals have been killed by the wildfires in Australia.

She explains that climate change is making it so there’s a longer fire season and that hotter temperatures mean more lightning fires.

She’s learned a lot about the fires and the animals in recent months. The first thing she’s going to do when she gets to the koala rescue is smell a koala. She’s heard they smell like cough drops because of the eucalyptus leaves they eat.

She chose the Adelaide Koala Rescue Center because they rescue, rehabilitate and release the animals into the wild, she says.

Why quarters? It sounds good, of course, but “quarters can add up quickly,” she says.

Of course, she’ll take any donations in any monetary form. Schools, groups or individuals who are interested in joining Quarters for Koalas can find a link to donate and more information on her website,

Her mom, Lynn Gilman, says, “We’re trying to get kids fired up about this from the crevices of their couches.”

Wilson Bares has gotten fired up. He’s helping to lead the drive at St. Gabriel’s, where he’s a fourth grader. He’s raised $210 through a lemonade stand he set up by the mailbox in his neighborhood. He sold muffins, lemonade and iced tea, and people gave him more than $1 for each. One woman gave him $60, he says.

“I love animals,” he says. “They’ve always been awesome.”

One exception to his love of animals is bees, though. “I don’t know why,” he says. “That’s why I keep away from them.”

At St. Gabriel’s there is a competition for Quarters for Koalas that Wilson is hoping to win. Whoever raises the most money will get a “free dress day” (no uniform).

Kate continues to grow the Kids Can Save Animals initiative. She has a new book in the works on rhinos, but also might be writing about koalas, too. “We fell hook, line, and sinker for koalas,” Gilman says.

What Gilman likes about this project is that it’s accessible because every kid can scrape together a quarter and save a koala, and it’s putting Kate in the role of mentor and teacher.