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Posts Tagged ‘falconer’

Photo: Noah Robertson/Christian Science Monitor.
Master falconer Rodney Stotts, founder of Rodney’s Raptors, holds a Harris hawk at the Earth Conservation Corps campus in Laurel, Maryland. At ECC, Stotts works with young people who may be at risk, just as he was once.

There’s more than one way to connect with troubled teens, but sharing an interest can be key. In today’s story, we learn how getting involved with birds of prey transformed the life of a young Rodney Stotts and how he later commmitted himself to helping other kids.

Noah Robertson writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Before young Jamaal Hyatt met falconer Rodney Stotts, the youth had never seen a bird fly from a person’s finger, disappear out of sight, and return at the sound of a whistle. He’d never fed a bird of prey, or understood the trust it takes for one to calmly perch on a person’s arm. He’d never even seen a raptor up close.

“Mr. Hyatt grew up in downtown Washington, D.C., where birds rest on traffic lights as often as trees. Two years ago, when his family felt he wasn’t focused on school, they decided to send him to Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy, a military school for at-risk students in Washington high schools. It was in the woods here that he met Mr. Stotts – a master falconer, mentor, conservationist, and Dr. Dolittle of sorts. 

“Mr. Stotts, too, grew up in Washington, and, like Mr. Hyatt, once barely knew a pigeon from a peregrine falcon. But more than 30 years ago, working with animals transformed him from a man of the streets to a man of the woods. He’s since become a mentor for young people facing similar challenges. 

“That mission brought him to Laurel, where his office is sandwiched between Capital Guardian and New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a youth detention and rehabilitation facility. He works with young people in each facility, giving them an outlet, a role model, and a chance to learn to trust others by learning to trust animals. …

“In three decades Mr. Stotts has worked with thousands of people on the streets and in schools, parks, jails, barns, and Zoom calls. Along the way, he founded his own nonprofit, Rodney’s Raptors, and earned his falconry license. The work is low in pay and often poignant, forcing him to confront violence, substance misuse, and loss. 

“But for Mr. Stotts, whose life is profiled in a new documentary, ‘The Falconer,’ it’s highest in personal reward. If he could change, he tells the young people he works with, so can they. …

“With a mother who struggled with heavy substance use (before later quitting cold turkey), Mr. Stotts grew up in southeast Washington during the crack epidemic. In early adulthood, he reflected his circumstances; he dealt drugs and was likely to cross up with law enforcement, he says. Then, by accident, he found animals. 

“In the early 1990s, he needed a pay stub to sign on an apartment and took a position at Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), a nonprofit then focused on cleaning the notoriously polluted Anacostia River. Bob Nixon, the program’s de facto founder and a falconer himself, helped introduce Mr. Stotts to animals and eventually birds of prey. 

‘The first time I held a bird, period, it took me somewhere else, says Mr. Stotts. …

“After a year, he stayed with ECC and eventually took charge of its raptor program, based in Laurel. … ‘He’s been engaged since the get-go – that’s the impressive thing,’ says Mr. Nixon, of ECC. ‘He really feels the nature in his bones and gets a real reward in sharing that with people.’ … 

“ ‘There’s a lot of kids out here that don’t really have anything or don’t even believe in [themselves],’ says Mr. Hyatt. ‘Seeing somebody like that … can uplift them and give them a little bit more hope.’ ”

More here.

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