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Raptor Center aims to expand

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The rehab unit at the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville sees 600 to 800 injured and orphaned birds a year.

That unit is becoming a teaching hospital that provides internships for veterinary students from throughout the U.S. and abroad under an ambitious plan that would make the 27-year-old center a regional, national and international hub for environmental and conservation education.

A key to that plan, which its board will consider, is to better engage the center in research, says Joy Braunstein, its new president and CEO.

“We want to have measureable, objective goals to get to from a research perspective,” says Braunstein, who joined the center in September after serving as senior manager of planning and fund distribution at the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh and before that as an environmental protection specialist for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

With an annual budget of $1.4 million, a staff of 27 employees and a core of 250 volunteers, the center attracts 150,000 visitors a year to its “Living Museum” that is home to over 30 species of birds, and serves 40,000 children a year, mainly through programs it offers in schools.

Plans are in the works to refurbish and expand the center’s 57-acre home in Latta Plantation Nature Reserve in Huntersville.

Mecklenburg County voters on Nov. 4 approved a bond referendum for parks that includes $7.8 million for a new education complex and nature center the organization will build in partnership with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation.

The Raptor Center will move its education programs, including its Living Museum, and possibly its administrative offices, to the new facility, which also will be the new home for the county’s nature center now located elsewhere in Latta Plantation, Braunstein says.

The new facility, which would showcase “green” design and technologies, also could accommodate conferences, big visitor groups, and large-scale programs, she says.

The Raptor Center, in turn, will seek private funds to upgrade its facilities and programming, and improve its marketing.

While funding for the center is diversified, including earned income from its education programs, fees from memberships. and donations, including a grant from the Arts & Science Council, attendance has fallen 10 percent to 15 percent since June in the face of rising fuel prices and the deteriorating economy, Braunstein says.

Later this year, the center will launch its first annual-fund campaign, aiming to raise about $250,000.

And with an endowment of roughly $127,000 at the Greater Charlotte Cultural Trust at Foundation for the Carolinas, the center is working with Chris McLeod, vice president of the Cultural Trust, to more effectively develop planned gifts, or those that are complex or deferred or involve assets other than cash, such as stock or real estate.

Teaching and research represent big opportunities for the center to expand its reach, says Braunstein, who also has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching undergraduate classes on public policy, and on law and the environment.

The center this year hired a teaching veterinarian, for example, and a veterinarian from China who just completed a visit to the center now plans to create a raptor center in Beijing.

And next summer or fall, the center will offer internships and practicum courses for students from the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

A high-tech hospital, Braunstein says, would “allow us to consult with vets around the country and the world.”

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