Spotlight on AWF Member Candace Ritz
Candace Ritz is not your average 29-year-old. A busy financial planner at a corporate law firm, Ritz has just bought her first home, volunteers for animal welfare organizations all over the world, and is now starting up her own eco-friendly greeting-card business.
She is also one of the youngest members of AWF's Kilimanjaro Society, a group of supporters who have chosen to extend their caring and support for Africa's wildlife and wild lands beyond their lifetimes.
What prompted this young professional to join this esteemed group of mostly older wildlife enthusiasts?
Ritz sought out AWF after a stay at a safari lodge in South Africa changed her life. The lodge, in addition to offering an amazing safari experience, worked with and benefited a nearby community. Ritz befriended a member of staff and learned from him about the relationship between wildlife conservation and community development.
"We talked about how important [the lodge] was to people in the community," recalls Ritz. "How it created jobs and how it created a strong sense of community, especially in preserving the land and the wildlife. It made the community viable by bringing in jobs."
When she returned home, Ritz began looking for a conservation organization focused on Africa which understood that communities must be part of the dialogue and part of the solution in order to protect wildlife long-term.
"I decided I was going to find an organization dedicated to Africa that doesn't sacrifice people's needs for the well-being of animals," says Ritz. "I saw how important that connection was firsthand. People need to be able to care for their family and make a living just the same as anywhere. I set out to find an organization that understood that, and I found the African Wildlife Foundation."
While many people are inspired to join AWF after seeing Africa's wildlife firsthand, Ritz's choice to become a legacy giver set her apart. She said the decision was much easier than she thought it would be.
"I literally picked up the phone and called. I explained my situation, and said I wanted to leave a legacy gift to the African Wildlife Foundation and asked what I needed to do."
Although there are different ways to leave a legacy gift, Ritz opted to designate AWF a beneficiary in her Will. A planner by nature, Ritz concedes she is the exception among people her age. "Many people don't want to contemplate the finality of their existence," she says. "They also think estate planning is complicated and expensive, when in fact, it's usually fairly easy to do."
To Candace, the alternative is even scarier. "Think about it, do you want to risk having the dollars you've worked so hard for go to something you don't believe in?" she asks. "I've worked so hard for every dollar I've earned, and I want to it be used for something that is important to me, something that will truly make a difference," she says.
Ritz is already making a difference and in more ways than one. In addition to being an active AWF member, she volunteers with several animal rescue organizations around the world, from a mom and daughter duo rescuing street dogs in Romania to a wildlife rescue team in Zimbabwe in need of veterinary supplies. And recently, Ritz founded a stationery company called Furkids, Inc. (www.furkidsinc.com), which will sell eco-friendly greeting cards to raise money for a network of animal welfare and wildlife conservation organizations, dubbed the Furkids family. While the Furkids online store is still under development, Ritz has already arranged for local artists to design the greeting cards.
At home, Ritz lavishes her love of animals on her canine housemates — Asia, Bruno, Maxwell, and Oscar — rescued from a backyard breeder, a puppy mill, animal control, and an abandoned junkyard, respectively. Oscar the junkyard dog survived for weeks on scraps before Ritz rescued him.
"I picked him up, and he's acted as if he died and went to heaven ever since," she beams.