The history of Friends of the Rainforest is a history of amazing women. Our work and mission wouldn't be possible today without the incredible ambition and care of the environmental stewards who paved the way. This year, as we celebrate our 20th year as an official organization, we want to reflect on our past two decades and honor those who have made our work possible.
So, here's to 20 incredible years of Rainforest conservation, education, and adventure, and the many more come!
Our story as an organization begins in 1987, when Swedish schoolteacher, Eha Kern, and her students began a classroom unit on Rainforests. She invited an American biologist, Sharon Kinsman, to visit their classroom to speak about the Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and the destruction and deforestation the tropical Rainforest faced. Eha's students were shocked that the Rainforest was being destroyed. Roland Tiensuu, one of her students, then famously said "Why can't we buy some Rainforest so there's some left when we grow up?"
Eha Kern with her school children in Sweden. Photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av4oVZIdm74
With Eha's energy and guidance, the kids of the class began hosting bake sales, making cards to sell, and raising money for the Monteverde Conservation League. Soon, other schools began to join in the fundraising efforts. They raised enough money to purchase 15 acres of Rainforest land and started an international youth-led fundraising effort. This land was then named the Children's Eternal Rainforest (CER).
Our story continues into the 90s. Rachel Crandell, a school teacher in St. Louis, had the idea of finding something hopeful and inspiring for her 2nd- grade class to learn about. Similar to Eha Kern's class, this search led her to discover the CER of Costa Rica. She had a deep love for education and conservation and these passions led to the creation of Friends of the Rainforest (then named the Monteverde Conservation League, US.). Rachel gave us a wonderful example of how one idea put into action can make a huge difference. Rachel taught her students about the Rainforest, fundraised for the Monteverde Conservation League, and led Ecotours in the CER - building on the legacy of Eha Kern and her students.
Rachel Crandall, pictured here in 2008 in the Bajo del Tigre Forest.
Rachel passed away in 2009, but we continue to honor her memory by continuing her conservation work with the same dedication, integrity, and enthusiasm that she abundantly expressed.
Laurie Waller is the next incredible woman to have graced and guided Friends of the Rainforest and our work.
Laurie Waller in the Rainforest in 2012
After moving to St. Louis in 2006 and volunteering with Friends of the Rainforest, Laurie accepted the role of Executive Director when Rachel passed away. Laurie was unique in her ability to rattle off scientific facts about the Rainforest, and she understood the connection of all living things, the earth, the air, and the water, and took her role in protecting it all very seriously. With us until 2014, her hard work was pivotal to the organization, helping to build on Rachel's legacy and to set a foundation for future work to come. Laurie passed away in 2020.
Chelsea Raiche with her family in front of the Arenal Volcano in 2018
In 2015, at a point when the organization needed to tighten both our focus and our belts, Chelsea Raiche (who had been Laurie's assistant) stepped into the position of Executive Director and made hard decisions that enabled us to maximize our impact. Through her leadership, our Education and Ecotours programs grew into what they are today. Passionate about protecting the Rainforest for future generations, Chelsea fiercely guided Friends of the Rainforest through our second decade as an organization. Now, as Friends of the Rainforest enters its third decade as an organization, I am prepared to honor the legacy before me and continue the meaningful and important work of Rainforest conservation and education. Incredible women have come before me and I am proud to follow their lead.
Executive Director since 2021