WASHINGTON - Olivia Bouler, the National Audubon Society's star fundraiser, bounded on to Capitol Hill Monday with a grin full of braces and hands filled with artwork.
The 11-year-old from Islip - who has raised an estimated $165,000 for birds affected by the BP oil spill - told Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) she agreed with him that the country must reduce its dependence on oil. Then she delivered her pitch:
"People need to get off oil so we can preserve our world for future generations, for future kids, who want to look at the world and say, 'This is really beautiful,' instead of looking at buildings and smog and dust."
Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, offered her a high five.
"I'm proud of you," he said. "I think this is a good example for people to see that someone cares and it doesn't make any difference what age you are. . . . We all have a responsibility in this country to work together to try to make things right."
Olivia is bringing her message of conservation and restoration to the nation's capital this week, accompanied by her father, James, her mother, Nadine, and her 6-year-old brother, Jackson. Her fundraising - she has offered avian watercolors to contributors to the Audubon Society and other wildlife organizations - had already led to a dizzying turn of media appearances, including NBC's "Today" show, CBS News, People Magazine and a CNN telethon hosted by Larry King.
In the morning, before storming the Capitol, Olivia and her family stopped in at the Audubon Society for breakfast.
"Yes! Wow, that's awesome!" Olivia murmured as she opened two gifts from Mike Daulton, the society's senior director of government relations - an Audubon picture book and "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior." She gave each staff member a print of one of her watercolors and signed each as they praised her work and her spirit.
Olivia's efforts began three days after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, when her grandfather, who lives in Alabama, called and described the unfolding ecological disaster. Olivia has spent summers in a family cottage on the Gulf Coast.
She wrote a letter that night to the Audubon Society: "I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and give the profits to your organization."
"I'm actually now working with the kids who really want to be Olivia," Lynne Mecum, the society's senior conservation philanthropy officer, told Olivia and her parents Monday. Dozens of children across the country are organizing fundraising projects, from lemonade stands to a bowling tournament, she said.
When Olivia arrived at Waxman's office in the afternoon, she gave him a hand-painted watercolor of a herring gull as she spoke about the country's dependence on oil.
"I want her to work on my campaign after this," he said.
"Always, always, I will always be available for you!" she replied.
Later, after a day of shaking hands and signing prints, it was time to head to a hotel. Olivia skipped outside and hailed a cab.