Volunteer Spotlight: Ross Kovarik

Volunteer Spotlight: Ross Kovarik

Ross started volunteering in August 2022. He came to Heartland via his wonderful partner, Julia, who started volunteering a year before him. Through her tales of animal friendship and rewarding manual work, Ross says he became sanctuary-curious. And once we found out he would be willing to learn how to drive the tractor, we seized on his interest. Ross laughs, “Before the word ‘tractor’ was fully processed by my brain, I shouted ‘Yes.’” And so was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 

Ross has become Heartland’s manure pile aficionado – from managing the size and shape to spreading it out in the pastures. While it may not be glamourous, it is very important work. He also performs a variety of other groundskeeping tasks from mowing and snow removal to hauling and restocking straw/hay, organizing our storage building, and being willing to tackle other miscellaneous projects around the property.

When asked what he loves most about volunteering, Ross says, “Heartland provides a relaxing and rewarding balance to my regular job, which involves sitting in front of a computer all week. It’s fun to play in the dirt. Being around the animals and people at the sanctuary for a few hours each week makes me happy and gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”

When asked who his favorite animal is, he said he and Betty White made a pact. He is to declare his love for her and she wouldn’t give him a “love bite.” (ha, ha). Ross recounts, “Betty White and I were talking and stargazing a few nights ago out in the pasture, and she said to me, ‘You know, no one has ever picked me as their favorite animal in the volunteer spotlight.’ With a glint in her eye she said, ‘If you don’t do it, there may be consequences.’ But seriously, I like her a lot and enjoy watching her try to figure things out, like how to open doors. She’s so smart.”

Ross is a true outdoorsman who loves to loves to run, bike, ski and kayak. He also loves to cook. He and Julia try to travel when they can and enjoy hanging out with their pets at home, which includes a dog, cat and bird.

THANK YOU, Ross, for all you do to keep the Heartland property safe, organized and cleaned up (among much else)! Betty White wants you to know that you are greatly appreciated.

Vol Spotlight: Emily Corner

Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Corner

We are pleased to feature Sunday morning Animal Care volunteer, Emily Corner, who is celebrating her six-year anniversary this month!

When asked why she wanted to volunteer at HFS, Emily says, “In some form at a very young age, I declared that pigs were my favorite animal. This led to me having one of those childhoods which from that day forward for every birthday and every possible occasion I would be gifted any and every pig-themed thing imaginable. Pigs and their farm companions have always felt like part of my identity. After moving to Madison, I jumped at the chance to interact with them firsthand and get to know them in a way I couldn’t as a kid watching Babe for the millionth time.”

Emily has been around long enough that she does a little bit of everything during her shifts – from making colorful healthy salads for the residents to doing a deep, therapeutic muck. She loves the care that everyone has for each other – both animal and human. She says, “Compassion is such a radical thing, and the ways in which it’s practiced at Heartland is empowering. The animal care staff and volunteers are so committed and show so much love and respect to the animals. And we receive so much from them in return. I particularly love witnessing the ways in which all the different animals care for one another, like Libby covering her brother Justice with blankets, and Gracie goose helping her friend Cream Puff gain confidence and learn the ropes of rescued goose life. I’m always inspired by the solidarity animals have within their communities, and I love watching the sanctuary residents flourish and immerse themselves into the community of Heartland.”

When asked the difficult “favorite animal” question, she couldn’t deny her love for Arnold the mini pig, 1000%. She says, “Arnold found Heartland just after I did, and I feel like we’ve blossomed here together. He’s a sensitive soul with big feelings and an occasional attitude, but he is all the more loved for it by his friends. When I used to do the evening shift, Arnold would always be the hardest to find at the end of the night. Either way out in the farthest reaches of the pasture, or buried in a mountain of straw in the Verona arena space. He goes about his business with the utmost confidence and independence, but is still always ready for a nice cuddle with his friend Percy at the end of the day.”

Outside of Heartland, Emily enjoys trying new vegan recipes with her fiancé, Daniel, doing house projects (after all, she is an interior designer), and going for long walks with and giving lots of snuggles to their rescue pittie, Pepper. She’s always on the hunt for cool things to fill their home (some of which may or may not be pig-themed). 

In closing Emily says, “Heartland and the people I’ve met have truly changed my life. I became a volunteer to spend time with animals, but I just happened to also meet one of my best friends who is now officiating our wedding this May. Sanctuary work is such a special cause, and has a way of bringing people together for life.”

We are so grateful that Heartland brought you to us, Emily! THANK YOU for your steadfast dedication, reliability, compassion and loving energy.

Volunteer Spotlight: Claire Bergman

Volunteer Spotlight: Claire Bergman

Claire started volunteering at HFS after she moved to Madison from the Chicago area in September 2022. She stayed helping in Verona until the last of our rescued residents made the move to Stoughton. She also was a summer camp counselor last summer.

When asked why she wanted to volunteer at Heartland, Claire says, “As a kid, I attended camps at a local zoo in my hometown that provided animal education and homes for farm animals and native wildlife, many of whom needed rehabilitation. I was enamored with the residents there and the enrichment we were able to provide. As a teen, I started volunteering at the local animal shelter near my home and eventually worked my way up to fostering neonatal and feral kittens with some dogs in the mix. I have a passion for caring for animals who have had difficult starts to their lives and need a little extra love and attention. I knew I wanted to continue volunteering in the animal realm when I moved to Madison and HFS ended up being the perfect fit!”

Claire loves volunteering to create a safe and loving environment for the residents. She says, “It is fun learning each of the residents personalities and interacting with them on a more personal level. Also, shoutout to the Monday night crew! I have enjoyed getting to know my shift team and they make volunteering even more fun.”

When asked about her favorite resident, Claire didn’t hesitate to choose Hank the goat. She says, “First off, his little smirk will melt you. I have never met a more photogenic goat! I met Hank right when he came to the Verona location. He was in such rough shape and had no reason to trust anyone. During the summer, I spent a lot of time sitting in his stall after camp to get to know him better and he learned to trust me more and more. We got to a point where he would hang out next to me and let me give him butt scritches. He has come so far! Can’t forget about the noises he makes…so ridiculous!”

Outside of Heartland, Claire enjoys spending time with family, trying new coffee shops and pastries, and reading. She also loves to get outside and explore new parts of the state.

In closing Claire says, “I am so grateful to be part of the Heartland team! I am a school social worker by trade, and I am always looking for ways to decompress from work. I often call my time at the sanctuary my ‘fuzz therapy.’ The power of the residents on boosting your mood and giving you love is priceless!”

THANK YOU, Claire, for boosting our mood by being such a committed, compassionate and caring member of the Heartland crew.