Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 23, 2013

Boy, 10, raises money for endangered birds

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jonah Villanueva loves birds, raptors in particular.

Five years ago, when he was 5, Jonah watched as an eagle was returned to the wild after rehabilitation for an injury. The event was held at the Woodlands School and featured Empire-based raptor sanctuary Wings of Wonder.

Jonah craned his head skyward, fascinated as the eagle soared away, and he’s been hooked on birds of prey ever since.

“The long-eared owl is my favorite,” Jonah said. “They are endangered and are really, really rare, and they are known for their facial features.”

His interest in birds isn’t just restricted to reading and observing. The Traverse City boy also is an advocate for endangered birds.

Today, he’s holding his second fundraiser for Wings of Wonder at the Books-A-Million store off South Airport Road because he believes the organization looks out for the birds he cherishes.

“I’m so very proud of him,” said Jonah’s mother, Melanie Villanueva. “He has a great heart. It’s nice to see him doing something for others as opposed to just himself.”

Jonah’s first fundraiser took place three years ago when he was 7.

He stopped people on the street in front of his family’s home and asked strangers for $1 to pet his dog. He brought in a few bucks and sent the money directly to Wings of Wonder.

“I’d never met this child before, then I get a letter in the mail with a little note and $12 worth of crumpled $1 bills in it,” said Wings of Wonder Director Rebecca Lessard. “He did it totally out of the blue, and that meant so much to me that this child did that.”

Wings of Wonder is an educational organization designed to foster appreciation, understanding, honor and respect for raptors. It is also a raptor rehabilitation and release facility.

Jonah said he will be at Books-A-Million today from noon to 4 p.m. and will speak with anyone who will listen or chat about birds. He’s hoping to collect donations for his favorite nonprofit.

“We need to learn to live differently,” he said. “It really helps the birds.”