Peterborough girl uses art to raise money for sea turtles

  • Heidi Bell, a 10-year old from Peterborough, raised more than $1,500 to donate to the New England Aquarium's sea turtle rescue program. Courtesy photo—

  • Heidi Bell, a 10-year old from Peterborough, raised more than $1,500 to donate to the New England Aquarium's sea turtle rescue program. Courtesy photo—

  • Heidi Bell works on items to sell in order to raise money for the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle rescue program. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/28/2019 7:23:15 PM

Sy Montgomery knew there was something special about Heidi Bell.

The best-selling author spoke to Bell’s class at Peterborough Elementary School last year and the two became fast friends over their love of animals. They exchanged email addresses and went back and forth about the focus of Bell’s upcoming school project.

Bell has always been a huge fan of octopus, but Montgomery, who wrote “The Soul of an Octopus,” informed her that little is truly known about the world’s octopus population. But when Bell brought up the idea of researching sea turtles, which are a close second on Bell’s list of marine animals she loves, Montgomery was quick to point out that sea turtles are in need of help.

“Sea turtles are just so beautiful, but I’m not really sure why I like them, I just do,” Bell said.

So Bell put together a poster with facts about sea turtles and gave a presentation to her class, but it just didn’t feel like enough. She wanted to do something more than just informing her classmates of the dangers turtles face on a daily basis.

“I knew I needed to help,” Bell said.

During the summer, she spent countless hours putting her artistic skills to work developing a turtle-themed product line to help raise money for one of the world’s endangered species population. Bell hand-painted reusable shopping bags with a turtle on them, designed other blue reusable shopping bags with the words, Save the Sea Turtles, along with the image of a turtle and her initiatives name, Heidi’s Helping Hands, all in green.

“The first bag I kind of just painted to see how it would come out,” Bell said.

She made clay turtles that she painted and added small gems to. Bell also put together bracelets with turtle charms, bought reusable straws and had her mom Ashley make turtle rings.

“It turned into her love of art,” said her mom, Ashley. “And jewelry and fashion accessories were a must.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly all species of sea turtles are considered endangered or threatened. But instead of knocking on doors in her neighborhood or simply asking people for donations, Bell set up shop outside Joseph’s Coat during their Fifth Sunday event in July and Peak Into Peterborough in October, wearing a giant plush turtle hat, as well as at Montgomery’s book signing at The Toadstool on Dec. 1 and raised more than $1,500 during those three days.

“She recognized there’s this big problem in the world, and wanted to know who was going to fix it,” Montgomery said. “She decided she’d try to.”

Her first attempt to sell her items at the Fifth Sunday event was a huge success, bringing in about $530, which Bell brought down to the New England Aquarium to donate toward the organization’s sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts the day before starting fifth grade. And that’s where she got the experience of a lifetime. She was given the chance to feed Myrtle the green sea turtle, who is known as the Queen of the Giant Ocean Tank at the aquarium.

It was the first time Myrtle had been fed since her migration fast, and Bell was just a foot away, hand feeding lettuce to the 500-plus pound creature. But after all the 10-year-old from Peterborough has done to bring awareness and raise funds for the endangered species, it was an opportunity well deserved.

Bell has always been someone who likes to help others Ashley said, but this quickly took on a life of its own.

“It wasn’t ever meant to be this,” Ashley said. “But she’s always been this way, wanting to help.”

The South Meadow School student has business cards that she gives out with every purchase, complete with facts about sea turtles.

“The great part is that she’s educating people as well,” Montgomery said. “People might not know about this, but pretty soon Heidi’s going to make sure everyone does.”

She even has goals of raising more money – when the weather allows for her to sell her items outside.

“I tell a lot of people about my things and I even gave my teachers bags for Christmas,” Bell said.

Bell would love to volunteer at the aquarium, but is a few years shy of the 16-year-old age requirement. She has a goal of becoming a marine biologist, and really wants a pet turtle named Charlie, but so far she hasn’t been able to convince her parents.

So for now, she’s happy with her efforts making a difference for the turtles rescued and brought to the New England Aquarium – and making visits to drop off those fundraising checks.

“If you can start saving lives when you’re nine years old, think of the power we as adults should be using to save this world,” Montgomery said. “Every little bit helps, but what this 10-year-old has done is a huge thing.”


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