COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For 25 years, the Carolina Wildlife Center has worked to help injured and orphaned animals and preserve wildlife in the Midlands.
For the last six years, one of the center's volunteers has been instrumental in helping Carolina Wildlife accomplish its mission.
To say Cathy Larson is dedicated to wildlife would be an understatement.
"I've always loved animals," Larson said. "My family doesn't quite understand it."
And nearly seven years ago, Larson moved from Washington state to be closer to family, but she chose Columbia for one specific reason.
"I only looked at places to move to that had a wildlife center," Larson said.
A committed wildlife volunteer in her previous hometown, Larson jumped in at Carolina Wildlife Center eager to help. She was assigned to take care of possums.
"They scared me at first a lot," Larson said.
But 7 years later, you would never know it.
"They're used to people and they're very sweet," Larson said. "They want to come up and see you and everything."
While Larson works full-time for the South Carolina Educational Association, she spends nearly any free-time she has at Carolina Wildlife. She feeds the animals, cleans their cages, does laundry and even prepares their meals.
"Cathy has been as loyal as any volunteer we've had for years," Jay Coles, executive director of the Carolina Wildlife Center, said. "Every day she comes in she's always in a good mood and she makes everyone feel good."
Carolina Wildlife sees nearly 3,600 injured or orphaned animals a year. Center officials say without volunteers like Larson, the center would not be able to operate.
"Every volunteer hour that's committed is an hour that's not a paid for hour to take care of these animals," Coles said. "It's the only way we can maintain what we have within the budget we have."
And Larson is determined to do all she can to help the center continue in its mission of keeping nature balanced and getting injured animals back where they belong.
"I just don't want my grandchildren to grow up in a world without animals," Larson said. "So it is important to get it all back out there."
In addition to presenting Larson with her Community Builder hard hat, The Michael J. Mungo Foundation is also giving her a $1,000 donation to the charity of her choice. She says that will be going right back to the Carolina Wildlife Center.