Passion For Pandas

Reposted from Foxboro Reporter

By Evie Malm, Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 11:42 AM EDT


Taylor School childrens site supervisor Cherie Leighton-Goodwin, back left, is joined by students, from left: back row, Skylar Sharfman, Nadia Kloflac and Molly Flaherty; front row, Nicole Theriault (absent when photo taken, but digitally added here), Jimmy Sprague, Sam Carpenter, Jack Power, Ryan LeClair, Tristan Everson and Colin ONeill. (Photo by Evie Malm)

A little over a year from now, Cherie Leighton Goodwin will check off “a top priority on her bucket list:” she will travel to China to learn more about pandas first-hand in the wild.

Goodwin’s passion for pandas started with her job as a supervisor in the before- and after-school programs at the Taylor School. Seven years ago, then-fourth-grader Haley Levesque shared her love of pandas with her morning mentor. Little did Levesque, now a sophomore at Bishop Feehan High School, realize that would lead Goodwin to an unending love of pandas and on-going fundraiser for the endangered species.

One of the end-of-year projects this year at Taylor was a Pennies for Pandas campaign which raised more than $300 for the Colorado-based Pandas International organization. which Goodwin supports exclusively these days. “One hundred percent of the money raised goes for panda care in China,” she explained.

Goodwin will make the long trip to China with a friend she connected with back when she when she did her first fundraiser for the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC. At that time, she came up with the idea to make a pair of panda quilts — one to be donated to the panda keepers at the National Zoo and the other was auctioned off on EBay with the money going to support the pandas.

To Goodwin’s surprise, the quilt went for $3,000.

That was the first of many projects. With her quilting talents she went on to raise money for zoos in Atlanta, San Diego and still plans a quilt fundraiser and visit to the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. International recipients have included a zoo in Thailand and Pandas International, located in Littleton, Col. To date she has raised $8,500 for the panda cause.

On sale online

A percentage of all the wide selection of quilted items featuring pandas that she sells on her website ( goes to Pandas International.

In China she will be volunteering as a panda keeper at reserves in Cheng Du and Wolong.

“The Wolong reserve was destroyed in the May 2008 earthquake, and they are in the process of rebuilding the reserve which will open in the beginning of 2014,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin, who keeps close tabs on the reserves, marvels at the panda keepers who “walked for miles carrying cubs to get them to safety.” In addition, Goodwin said, the Wolong vet walked alone 24 hours through rough terrain to get to the reserve to check on the pandas.

In 2004 the Chinese Department of Forestry estimated there were 1,600 giant pandas in the wild and 300 in captivity in reserves, zoos and wildlife parks. Zoos outside China must lease the giant pandas from China. Each lease carries a million dollar price tag, which China uses for preservation programs.

According to Pandas International, “Increasing population in the Giant Panda’s native region has resulted in a dramatic degradation of habitat and food supply. The biodiversity of the region is at significant risk.” For extensive history and habitat of the Giant Panda go to

As for Levesque, while she still thinks of pandas as “such gentle and beautiful creatures,” she is not as enamored as she once was. However, she has not forgotten Goodwin, who “really cared for me and always made me feel safe and secure” in the Taylor program while both her parents were at work. She still plays many of the games that Goodwin provided, like Mancala, and says she devolpoed an appreication for arts and crafts.

But it was Levesque who perhaps made a great impact on Goodwin.

“I realize now what a large impact I had on her life and it’s crazy to think how young I was when I did,” says Levesque. “She’s following her dreams and doing what she really wants in life, and I can definitely still learn from her.”

She still has the panda watch that Goodwin gave her when she was younger and cherishes a stuffed panda with a Christmas ribbon on it, “so I see it every Christmas.”

Now Goodwin, will see the panda in its own habitat — a dream she has cherished for seven years.