March/April 2014 Volunteer Spotlight: Bruno Azambuja

Bruno, an activist in Brazil, describes how he became vegan and his work as an animal advocate.

BrunoMy first contact with vegetarianism was through a vegetarian friend who questioned my eating habits for the animals’ sake. I ignored his arguments for about three months until one day a bell finally rang after reading a few articles and watching a few videos. I realized that I was being selfish and inconsistent in my concerns for the environment and the lives of animals. I became a vegan on that same day. It didn’t make sense to continue using animals for any purpose whatsoever.

I went on to further study the subject and started disseminating all the information I could. A few months later, I learned about VEDDAS, a non-profit organization aimed at bringing awareness and educating the public about animal rights and veganism.  In 2010, I started actively participating in the group’s activities on a weekly basis. I am currently head of the VEDDAS-MÓVEL Pelo Brasil project which shows videos in the streets of several cities in Brazil, and I also take part in the volunteer training workshops. VEDDAS is currently present with regular weekly activities in five Brazilian cities and also holds monthly activities in 10 other cities. The activities range from protests to movie screenings to showing footage of animal exploitation in public spaces. By participating with VEDDAS on its multimedia projects, I have had the opportunity to reach hundreds of people–calling on their empathy and being able to provoke a deep reflection in many of them.

Since November 2012, I have also volunteered for VegFund, helping to manage a Portuguese language online social media campaign. In this capacity, I share information on the topic of animal rights and veganism. I also answer the questions brought by thousands of visitors every month, and help people transition to a vegan lifestyle.

For me, being vegan isn’t enough. We must educate others about veganism and share our experiences so that people can rethink their relationship with animals and, as a consequence of that, come to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It is a privilege to be able to take part in actions that favor this change.

Jan/Feb 2014 Volunteer Spotlight: Leslie Brefeld

Leslie describes her journey to veganism and why she decided to pursue an internship with VegFund.

My path to becoming a vegan started when I read Skinny Bitch. I can’t imagine what drew me to the book in the first place, but now it seems like there was some divine intervention. Specifically, I recall the part about how omnivores are eating the fear and terror that animals experienced just before their deaths. I read the book during a camping trip with my mom, and I decided right then that I would become vegetarian. I continued for four years before seeing the light, so to speak, and turned to veganism. The film Vegucated reminded me of the horrors of factory farming, and I tried being a vegan. However, it wasn’t until I read The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle soon after, that I began to really have the conviction to be a vegan.

Assisting with blog writing for the VegFund internship is my first real venture into animal activism. I have been looking for a change from my current job, and I saw this as an opportunity to do something meaningful. The World Peace Diet helped me imagine a world where nonhuman animals and human animals co-exist peacefully, and I see writing for VegFund as moving toward this ideal.

Nov/Dec 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Wendy Eikenberry

Wendy talks about her journey to veganism and shares her approach to animal advocacy. 

I have two amazing sisters who have always been an inspiration to me. Despite the fact that our parents were meat-eaters, both of my older sisters went vegetarian at a young age. They helped me “make the connection” and stop eating my animal friends when I was about seven years old. We went vegan about 4 years ago when my oldest sister found out about the horrific cruelty behind dairy and eggs. For all those years, how could we not have known or questioned it? I felt a moral obligation to share with others what I had learned. It was then that I found my true passion and started advocating for animals.

At first I thought that surely people would change if only they knew the truth, but I quickly learned that that wasn’t usually the case. Although dealing with many challenges such as willful ignorance and apathy can be discouraging, I strongly believe in leading by example and presenting the information in a non-confrontational way. I try to use a firm but understanding approach when advocating for veganism and animal rights. Most of us were not born vegan, and we’re all on our own unique paths.
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I am lucky enough to be part of an incredible organization called Indiana Animal Rights Alliance. We educate through leafleting, protests, food sampling, letter campaigns, film screenings, and Pay Per View. I also volunteer for Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, and FARM whenever I can. For the past two and a half years, I have had the privilege of helping with one of VegFund’s online campaigns geared toward young people. I really enjoy educating the younger generation and being a mentor. I am currently going to school for nursing, and my goal as a future nurse is to be an advocate for healthy eating while also reducing animal suffering.

Sept/October 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Panullo

Sarah describes her unique path to veganism and her experience as a VegFund volunteer.

When I was a child, I lived on a small farm in Northeastern PA. I loved the animals and was amazed by them. They can’t speak our language, but if you listen, you’ll find that they definitely have their own. When I was just 4 years old, while playing upstairs at my grandparents’ house, I looked out the window and witnessed the horrific slaughter of a calf. It was the worst thing I had ever seen in my life, and still to this day is the worst. When my grandfather came upstairs, I asked why the man killed the calf, and he said it’s how we get meat. From that point on, I vowed to never eat meat again. As a young child, though, it wasn’t easy. My mom and grandma would tell me that I was going to die without meat and they would sneak it in my food and try to trick me. By the age of 5, I was watching them cook to make sure they weren’t getting any meat in my food, and by the time I was 8, I was reading ingredients to make sure things like gelatin weren’t in my foods.

At age 12, I found eggs to be disgusting, so I quit eating them. My family used to tell me that I at least had to drink milk and eat cheese, and I believed them. It wasn’t until 8 years ago that I went completely vegan. I met some nice vegan individuals online and watched videos about the cruelty of dairy. Cheese was the hardest thing for me to give up. When I stopped eating cheese, it was 2 years before I realized that vegan cheese exists. After I found out, I tried a few and found the ones I like best. Now I use Follow Your Heart and Daiya when I make pizza. I always read ingredients when buying a new product, just as I did as a small child, but now I know more things to look out for. There are so many great vegan foods, and lots of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants. And, it feels good. I feel healthier and very happy knowing that I don’t contribute to cruelty.

Presently, as a VegFund volunteer, I help with an online vegan education campaign. I have the opportunity to tell my story and be a mentor to thousands of young people. I address misconceptions about veganism, provide people with recipes and other resources, and help them troubleshoot various issues (such as tensions with family). It’s wonderful to be able to play a role in helping people transition to a more compassionate lifestyle.

July/August 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Sally Thompson

Sally tells us about how she became vegan, her outreach efforts, and her experience as a VegFund volunteer.

Before I was vegan, I thought I understood the realities of animal agriculture and believed that being vegetarian was enough. But over time, people around me, not all necessarily vegan themselves, got me thinking. The questions they raised piqued my curiosity and I began researching the issue of animal exploitation more deeply. Then, one week whilst I was doing volunteer work, I happened upon a vegan cookbook called Another Dinner Is Possible. We were using recipes from the book for our communal meals. The information in the book, along with conversations I had with the other volunteers, gave me the confidence and inspiration I needed to take those final steps and go vegan. That was five years ago, and I have never looked back.

Since then, I have surrounded myself with people who share the same values and strive to make a difference for non-human animals. I volunteer with various local groups within West Midlands, UK doing vegan outreach in the form of stalls, fairs, workshops, and social events. Recently, a fellow-activist and I have been focusing our time on developing a not-for-profit organisation called Equality In Action. Equality In Action educates people on the connections between social justice issues and spreads a vegan message to help achieve equality for all. Our outreach involves attending various social justice events and holding street stalls and film screenings, and we are currently developing a vegan mentor programme. In all of my activism, I aim to connect the dots between issues of injustice and focus on engaging people with honest yet positive and empowering conversation. I believe this is key to encouraging more interest in veganism and strengthening the movement.

I am pleased to say that in June I started volunteering with VegFund. So far this has provided me with the opportunity to improve upon my writing skills, gain experience with online campaigning techniques, and contribute to the VegFund blog and VegVids. I am looking forward to all that’s to come during my time helping VegFund and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with such inspiring people for an important cause.

May/June 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Norma & Estela Sanchez

Norma and Estela describe their path to veganism and their experience as VegFund volunteers.

We are twin sisters and thankfully we became vegan, and before that, vegetarian, at the same time.

When we were in school, we had to write a research paper for a class. We could pick any topic we wanted, so we chose “Animal Experimentation.” When researching information about this topic, we learned what happens to farmed animals and immediately decided to become vegetarian.

After 5 years of being vegetarians, we went to a fur-free protest in Beverly Hills. One of the people who organized the event asked us if we were vegan. We didn’t know what the word meant, so we decided to read about the topic. We read the information about how cows and chickens are treated in order for people to have dairy and eggs. The same day we read about it, we decided to become vegan. This has been the best decision we ever made! We are very glad that we finally made the connection!

We have always loved animals, and we started to help cats by volunteering for FixNation, a TNR program. We also worked as volunteers for Cats in Need for 6 years by feeding cats and cleaning their litter boxes and cages. Then, after becoming vegans, we helped farmed animals by leafleting with Vegan Outreach at different schools.

Working with VegFund as administrators of the Spanish vegan Facebook campaign “Detén el abuso” has given us a lot of gratification. We realize this is the best way for us to help animals. We are so happy that we can reach millions of people every month and help them make the connection that they need to stop consuming all animal products.

This has been a wonderful journey!

March/April 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Corey Wrenn

Corey Wrenn discusses her journey to veganism and why she decided to pursue an internship with VegFund.

I went vegetarian at age 13 after watching a cooking show where the host visited a butcher shop. In seeing this, I suddenly made the connection between “meat” and the persons who died to create it. I vowed to go vegetarian on the spot. In my teens, I read more on Nonhuman Animal rights issues and quickly discerned that veganism was the most appropriate decision if I wanted to seriously respect the interests of other animals. I went vegan on my very first day of college at age 17, when I was able to purchase my own food. I am 29 now, so I have been vegan for about 12 years.

When I started college at Virginia Tech, I immediately joined up with the student Nonhuman Animal rights group and attended some protests and video screenings. The student group eventually fizzled, but when I began graduate school at Virginia Tech, I decided to resurrect the group and soon found myself spending 20+ hours a week organizing events. When I started my doctoral program at Colorado State University, I carried over that student activism and launched another Nonhuman Animal rights student group. After that, I began working with abolitionist grassroots groups online and writing for The Examiner. I also began to incorporate Nonhuman Animal rights theory into my research, publishing several academic articles and framing my dissertation around veganism and activism for other animals.

The VegFund internship position interested me because, while my academic work is hugely fulfilling, I had begun to miss on-the-ground, real-world advocacy. Working with VegFund gives me the chance to apply my years of study and research to tangible projects. I have the awesome opportunity to collaborate with the Nonhuman Animal rights community and put my work into action.

Jan/Feb 2013 Volunteer Spotlight: Megan McNames

Megan McNames shares how she became vegan and discusses her VegFund volunteer experience.

My journey to veganism started as a love for animals but has grown into so much more. I was a vegetarian for ten years, before the reality of my food choices became clear to me a little more than a year ago and I became a vegan.

I am vegan today because of the outreach efforts of dozens of friends, acquaintances and strangers who exposed me to the truth about animal exploitation, taught me about cruelty-free food choices and challenged me to consider whether my vegetarianism accomplished what I saw as the goals of the animal rights movement.

I am also vegan today because of the hundreds of wonderful animals I have gotten to know at the handful of animal rescues where I volunteered for more than a decade. They taught me many lessons about animals’ lives, and as I spent my time surrounded by cats and dogs who were abandoned, scared and sometimes suffering, it seemed impossible to comprehend that millions of animals outside the shelter walls suffered worse.

Working with VegFund as a graphic designer is my first foray into animal rights activism beyond sharing messages of compassion with my friends, family and online communities, and I am excited to assist VegFund in their mission to help empower others in their journey toward veganism.

Nov/Dec 2012 Volunteer Spotlight: Elana Kirshenbaum

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While I have always felt a deep kinship with other species, I was fifteen before I began to connect my daily choices to their suffering and start my journey towards cruelty-free living and vegetarianism. Years later during a memorable trip to an animal sanctuary, I learned the horrific reality of cow’s milk and instantly became vegan. My animal advocacy began in college, has continued throughout my adult life, and has ranged from picketing, vegan outreach, and humane education to extensive animal rescue, running a small rabbit sanctuary, etc. While I am passionate about ending all forms of animal enslavement, oppression, and exploitation, I have chosen to primarily devote my time towards vegan advocacy.

I co-founded RIVA (Rhode Island Vegan Awareness), an all-volunteer run organization that engaged in various forms of outreach including films screenings, workshops, events, food sampling outreach, and much more. As the president for ten years, I gained extensive experience in organizational and program development, effective outreach strategies, event planning, advertising, and working with volunteers. I am so grateful to the support VegFund provided to RIVA that helped us expand our outreach with delicious vegan food sampling!

With a professional background in social work, teaching, program development, and volunteer coordination, I sought a full-time career in the animal advocacy field. Through my studies with the Institute for Humane Education, I began teaching humane education programs to youth about living compassionately towards all beings and the earth. Then two years ago, I relocated to New York to work as the Programs Coordinator at an animal sanctuary.

I am excited to be interning at VegFund as I have been impressed by the organization’s mission and approach from the beginning. They are catapulting vegan advocacy forward and supporting grassroots activism in a truly unique way. My work incorporates various writing, marketing, and outreach projects that are all intended to support the work of activists around the world. The small staff has been very welcoming and receptive to ideas. I am grateful that I am able to contribute to such a fantastic mission and moved by all the vegan revolutionaries supported by VegFund who are advocating on behalf of the most critical issue of our time.

Sept/Oct 2012 Volunteer Spotlight: Vegan Cast and Crew

(From left to right: Lalena, Jessica, Steven, Nick)

We’re pleased to recognize a dedicated group of vegan activists who produced the first ever instructional videos for our Food Sampling and Pay Per View grant programs! These short and engaging how-to videos cover important tips on running successful outreach events from start to finish.

Lalena Gieser wrote and edited the educational video scripts. Her professional interests include screenwriting, communications, and web design. For the past 8 years, Lalena has enjoyed living a vegan lifestyle and generously donates her time to animal rights causes.

Jessica Resnik is featured as an actor in the educational videos and assisted the director. She enjoys acting, writing, and dancing and is pursuing a career in marketing. Jessica has been vegan for nearly 3 years and maintains a vegan food blog.

Steven Todd Smith played a starring role in the educational videos. He’s been vegan for 3 years and stays busy with a number of outreach projects. In addition to acting, writing, and blogging, he is also the Community Manager for Forks Over Knives and the Owner/CEO of Ahimsa Life Coaching.

Nick Somers directed, filmed, and edited the educational videos. Nick is a professional actor and filmmaker and often volunteers his time to help with worthy projects. He’s followed a 95% vegan diet since 2002, and three years ago he went fully vegan.

It was a pleasure working with this team of talented activists, and we’re grateful for the time and effort they put into producing the videos. Be sure to check out the videos on the Food Sampling and Pay Per View introductory pages!