Idaho Gives: Elizabeth Lizberg, Madie Rothchild, Anna Buschbacher and Amy Little

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Over the years, there have been rare instances in which Boise Weekly Citizen profiles have included two or three people together. Perhaps they were co-stars, colleagues or compadres. But this week's edition brings together a quartet of women who had never met before. In fact, their respective professions are dramatically different, but their common bond is Idaho Gives, the theme of this issue.

In advance of Idaho Gives Day on Thursday, May 2, we asked the Idaho Nonprofit Center to select representatives from three charitable organizations—big, medium and small—to talk about their respective missions. Our conversation included Idaho Nonprofit Center President/CEO Amy Little, Idaho Rivers United Development Director Anna Buschbacher, Camp Rainbow Gold Executive Director Elizabeth Lizberg and Animals in Distress Association President Mady Rothchild. The ensuing dialogue triggered plenty of passion, a lot of laughter and even a few tears.

Amy, correct me if I'm wrong, but at some point during this year's Idaho Gives your grand total of all of the money raised over the years will surpass $7 million.

Little: We've raised something like $6.4 million in the six years since we've been running the program.

I think the thing that really jumps out is that you'll hit that $7 million mark.

Little: We'll hit that mark when one single person makes a single person wanting to give because they care.

I can't imagine how many things have been upgraded, changed or tweaked over the years, but what have you learned about this undertaking since last year's Idaho Gives?

Little: We learned that an individual volunteer for an organization is super passionate and their ability to fundraise on behalf of their own organization makes a huge difference. It's so inspiring. That's why we have a lot more peer-to-peer fundraising this year. We've already seen a lot of success.

I think I heard you say once that Idaho Gives was a lot like—

Little: Having a baby. You have a baby and tell yourself, "Oh my gosh, that was so hard. I don't know if I can do that again." A couple of months go by and you think, "You know, I would really like to have another baby." You start the planning. Somewhere in the middle, it feels great, mostly because you're eating everything. But then, there's the tail-end of the pregnancy, and you're panicking. You have to get the nursery done, but you have to put your feet up. You need to drink more water. You're not getting enough sleep. It's the same thing with Idaho Gives. We're up late. We're not eating or drinking enough. We're saying, "Oh my gosh, we just want to have this Idaho Gives baby." And the day shows up and it's the best day of the entire year. It's all worth it. That baby is awesome, and you would love to do it all over again.

And it all starts with Idaho charities telling their own stories.

Little: Five hundred and ninety-eight stories. That's how many nonprofits are participating in this year's Idaho Gives.

Anna, you're one of those 598. Why do you do what you do at Idaho Rivers United?

Buschbacher: I do it... well, we all do it so that future generations can enjoy the rivers that we all love.

There isn't a person in this state that doesn't treasure our waterways. That said, our waterways are continually threatened.

Buschbacher: There are plenty of other conservation groups out there, but we're the only Idaho nonprofit that solely works for the rivers. There are 100,000 miles of waterways in Idaho. Only 1% of that is protected. So, we work to get more wild and scenic miles protected. We do a lot of research, policy review and litigation, if we have to.

For the record, Idaho Rivers United has had great success when you've had to go to court.

Buschbacher: That's right. We have to keep dams that we don't need off our rivers. We're not afraid to do that because somebody has to be that safeguard. Somebody has to be the keeper.

How might you best tell your organization's story?

Buschbacher: It's really all about reminding people of why this is important. Everybody knows that water is the lifeline, but it's threatened every day—mining, pollution, climate change, endangered species.

Sad to say, we may take our water for granted in Idaho because we're blessed to have such an abundance of it.

Bushbacher: But there are plenty of places really close to us that that have water scarcity and severe water pollution. That's even more reason to protect it.

Have you thought of your Idaho Gives strategy?

Buschbacher: We've got a number of cool things planned, but we'll also be at Payette Brewing. From 3-8 p.m., for every $10 donation you get $1 off your beverage of choice.

Pardon the pun, but we'll be able to drink like fish.

Buschbacher: Or take a salmon selfie with our mascot Lonesome Larry [the infamous sockeye salmon who was the only salmon to return to Redfish Lake in 1992].

Mady, let's talk about your organization, Animals in Distress. Can I assume that you grew up around animals?

Rothchild: It's in my genes. My mother was a founder of the Idaho Humane Society in 1938.

When did Animals in Distress start?

Rothchild: Back in the 1980s with Sally Maughan. She was saving squirrels at the time. Injured squirrels. Sally went off to rehab bears and coyotes, but in 1987 we started [to realize] that there was a need to help injured and orphaned wildlife.

Was your original mission back then the same mission you have today?

Rothchild: The exact same. [Helping] injured, orphaned and displaced wildlife.

Are you a volunteer organization?

Rothchild: Primarily. At the beginning, there were three of us working primarily with mammals. In 1997, we added a bird sanctuary. I still do mammals out of our home. We don't have a center for mammals. Raccoons. Beaver. Bats. Cottontail. Coyote. Badger. We have about 3,000 birds a year at our bird center, where we've hired a director who has her raptor permit.

How do these animals come to you?

Rothchild: I'll get a phone call from police or fire departments, Fish and Game, the Humane Society and certainly the public. I'll get calls at all hours of the day and night.

If someone were to make a $50 donation to Animals in Distress, what might that help purchase?

Rothchild: That could buy maybe a bag and a half of Mazuri [Exotic Pet Food]. That's a special diet we feed to ducks.

Idaho Gives is, in many ways, a great equalizer in that it puts nonprofits, big and small, on an equal stage, and I'm guessing that it might benefit you. People may not have heard of your organization, but they might know they want to assist an organization that rescues animals in danger. They go onto the Idaho Gives website, pull up the category of animals...

Rothchild: And we're pretty lucky because our organization starts with an "A."

Elizabeth, let's talk about Camp Rainbow Gold. How long have you been with your organization?

Lizberg: Twelve years, but it has been part of my family for more than 20.

Tell me more about that.

Lizberg: My brother was the first in our family to volunteer for Camp Rainbow Gold. He's rather well-known around town.

Are you going to make me ask his name?

Lizberg: Ted Challenger.

Wait a minute... what? Ted Challenger? Boise's best-known nightclub owner? I never would have guessed in a million years.

Lizberg: I know, right? Nobody knows, and he won't let us tell.

Well, now we know. I can't think of a better time to hear this.

Lizberg: That was 20 years ago, about the same time he bought Main Street Bistro. Somebody bet him that he wouldn't volunteer, and he did it. It grabbed his heart and he's been volunteering ever since. Our whole family has volunteered at Camp Rainbow Gold. Twelve years ago, Ted called me and he said, "There's a job opening at camp and you have to apply." I've been there ever since.

For certain, a good many Idahoans have heard about Camp Rainbow Gold over the years.

Lizberg: We were part of the American Cancer Society until 2014. Since we started our own organization, we've done a lot more outreach.

It has to be an amazing organization to work for.

Lizberg: Most of us desire to feel accepted, to be understood, to be included. As soon as you get off the bus at Camp Rainbow Gold, you know you're in a place of understanding and acceptance. We use the word "love" a lot, and some people think that's a cliche. But it's actually what we're all about—providing love, acceptance and hope to these kids.

Do you have a sense of how many kids have been at camp?

Lizberg: Thousands. We support more than 400 family members a year. A big thing about Camp Rainbow Gold is that you don't currently have to be in treatment. You could have had cancer years ago. The impact of cancer is a lifetime, including the possibility of being rediagnosed with cancer.

Or the fear that it will come back into your life.

Lizberg: Absolutely. The fear. You'll hear people talk about something called "chemo brain," but it's actually trouble processing and adjusting. And siblings often have more psychosocial outcomes of the cancer diagnosis than the child with cancer. We lost our first sibling camper to suicide a couple of years ago. Suicide, drug abuse, early teen pregnancies... they're impacts from a cancer diagnosis on a sibling.

How many camp sessions do you have?

Lizberg: We have five camp sessions. We're mostly known for our camps, but we also have a teen support group and a college scholarship program.

College scholarships?

Lizberg: We've awarded more than $800,000 [in] scholarships to Idaho kids in the last 10 years.

I'm stunned.

Lizberg: Eight hundred thousand dollars. And they can take as many years as they need to finish college.

How many campers can you serve?

Lizberg: We currently serve 80. We had to turn 30 kids away this year because we're at maximum capacity.

Which leads me to ask about your recently announced expansion.

Lizberg: We've never been able to have more than a year-to-year lease at our current location, but we just signed papers for some land at the Soldier Mountain Ranch in Fairfield. That's not the ski resort. It's a ranch. One hundred and seventy acres. We've got a long way to go and we're just beginning our master planning.

What are your hopes for this year's Idaho Gives?

Lizberg: It's really about sustaining our programs.

What works for you as far as getting support for that cause?

Lizberg: Our strongest storytellers are our former campers. Plus, every staff member at Camp Rainbow Gold has their own profile as well, sharing their own stories. I can't begin to tell you how successful that [is] for us.

And where will you be on May 2?

Lizberg: We're partnering with Costa Vida, and we've got something really special this year. One of our volunteers made this massive board full of pictures of kids having fun at Camp Rainbow Gold. Every one of those photos is covered by a different number—one through 100. And if somebody donates a dollar amount equal to one of those numbers, then we reveal that photo. That would ultimately total $5,000, and at the end it will be the amazing image. Giving, caring...I'm getting emotional just thinking about it.