We’re back! Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary has weathered the storm and has come back stronger and better than ever!

Back in February 2021 the new board of directors felt that it was necessary to make the public aware of the problems that our nonprofit organization had undergone in the prior year under the previous board and staff members. We chose to do this in an attempt to be totally transparent and acknowledge that there had been serious problems so that the public would not be misled into thinking that the new board of directors was trying to cover up the misdeeds of the past. Yes, it embarrassed us to admit this and advertise our “dirty linen” for everyone to see. It hurt us tremendously because people lost faith for a while in our organization – from lack of volunteers to loss of grant funding from previous foundations. But still we hung in there and kept going strong with only one staff member and a few hardy dedicated volunteers, including myself as executive director and re-established board member. We made it through the COVID restrictions and still managed to take in and care for many injured and orphaned birds and animals with limited supplies and very few helping hands. It became very hard at times and extremely stressful, but we knew we would not give up. The lives of the wildlife depended on us and we could not ignore their pain and suffering.

Today I’m pleased to announce that Possumwood Acres is run by a dedicated and strict board of directors who ensure that the mission and vision continue to rule all actions in our organization’s goal to be the premiere wildlife rehabilitation and training center in Onslow County. We have had a generous sponsor who financed upgrading the outdated electrical system in the animal building and provided outlets for outside purposes. This means that in the winter we will now be able to keep the waterfowl pools from freezing and be able to provide heated perches for our older arthritic education ambassador raptors. We will be able to keep the food freezers operating at the same time while we run the microwave and space heaters in the cold weather without blowing out the circuits inside the building.

The interns, volunteers and staff member decided that with these changes being made, they wanted to celebrate this good fortune by also updating the Animal Building. Kelsey Gaylor, Courtney Cole and Bree Gladden raised money to buy paint and floor sealant. Andrew Baughman called around town and got businesses to donate or reduce the cost of supplies needed for the renovation efforts. The morale of these helpers rose visibly as the rooms became attractive once more and the good mood became contagious. Others pitched in to help as the work and improvements continued and continue. The recent heavy rainstorms have slowed down the progress and delayed the final finishing touches, but the end result will be worth the time it takes to finally be done.

Once completed and all the supplies and animals are moved back inside again, we plan to host a public grand re-opening and offer free tours that day. We will invite everyone to come out and see what has been accomplished despite the problems of the past. The dedication of the staff, interns, students and volunteers is very apparent in their pride in what they have accomplished. The current board of directors wants grant funders and business sponsors to come out and see what has been done and how we operate. The education ambassador animals will be brought out for a meet-and-greet photo session and you can learn more about the many environmental programs we present to the local schools.

We know that everything happens for a reason, and I believe that Possumwood Acres had to go through the difficult times in order to mimic the Phoenix and “rise through the ashes.” It has been an eye-opening time for me to realize that not everyone is honest and that not everyone can be trusted. But those we find who share the same passions and interests as I do will return and participate in making Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary the best place possible. We will continue to grow and expand our CENTER programs and support the communities who stood with us. Thank you for continuing to believe that we only want what is best for the environment and all who share that together, and that we will continue to strive to be conservation leaders for coastal Eastern North Carolina.

Our Mission Statement: To provide an improved human experience through stewardship and connectivity with the natural world.

Our Vision Statement: To provide a “Center of Excellence” for health and wellbeing through wildlife care and environmental education.

Toni O’Neil is executive director of Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary.

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