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Wildlife center celebrates 25 years of helping animals
Twenty-five years ago six people set out on a mission to protect the wildlife living in Stanislaus County.

With just $300 in their pockets and no land to speak of, this optimistic group of dreamers set out to become the founding members of the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center. For months and months they nursed and cared for the lost and injured creatures in their own homes until they were able to open their first location - albeit in a garage.

The years passed and the non-profit grew. Today, it has found a permanent home on two acres of land along the Tuolumne River in the Fox Grove Regional Park and has a base membership of more than 1,000 and several dozens of volunteers.

"I had spent time at another center and really felt there was a need for one in Stanislaus County," said Donna Burt, one of the founders and the center's chairman and acting executive director. "We were all committed to the mission of caring for the animals so that they could eventually be released back into their natural environment."

The Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center is a non-profit organization that takes in and cares for wounded, orphaned or abandoned wildlife. The goal for nearly every bird, reptile, or mammal is to release them back into their natural habitat, though some, through circumstances, find permanent homes at the center. More than 1,800 creatures - from raccoons to hawks - will pass through the center's doors, Burt said.

A small number of employees and a base of volunteers keep the center operational. Joanell Hassapakis has been a volunteer at the center for 14 years. At first, she said she was nervous just to handle the baby birds, now she regularly steps into the pin of the raptors and feeds them their meal of dead mice.

"It makes my heart feel good to be doing something that makes a difference," Hassapakis said. "There is no better feeling than to see an animal who you have helped nurse be released back into the wild."

The center will celebrate their 25th anniversary with the biggest festivity they have had to date. The event is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 19 and will feature barbecue tri-tip, kids activities, face painting, a raffle, and of course, lots of animals.