‘They need our help’

By on August 15, 2023

The kids, (clockwise) Ayden, Addison and Erron on the night they watched the sea turtle nest. (Photos courtesy of the McFate family)

How an Indiana family works to support OBX sea turtles

When the McFate family came to Nags Head from Indiana last fall for one of their regular trips to their second home, Laura McFate decided to incorporate lessons about sea turtles into her curriculum for what the kids refer to as “car school.”

“When we go down to the Outer Banks, I utilize that as on-the-road homeschool and I gear their lessons around the Outer Banks,” said McFate, a mother of six who homeschools her three oldest kids. “And last fall we went and did a lot more about sea turtles.”

The mom started the lessons by picking apart the NEST (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) website and taking all of their active nests and putting them on her teaching whiteboard. The family did the graphing and charting to find which area had the most sea turtle nests, among other things.

What these lessons led to was the creation of an unusual midwestern fundraising effort, manned by a few impressive and determined kids (with help from their mom), to support the Outer Banks NEST operation located about 800 miles away from their home.

NEST is the local all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of sea turtles and other protected marine wildlife on parts of the Outer Banks. McFate contacted them, and right before they were to end their Outer Banks vacation to go home to Salem, Indiana, the family got a call from Mary Lynn Murphy (“Murph”), one of the NEST volunteers who is a designated nest parent.

NEST parents are volunteers who stay up all night on the beach waiting for the baby turtles to hatch so they can help guide them safely to the ocean. She invited the three oldest McFate children, ages 7 to 10, to come sit with her that evening. Although the kids didnt get to see the turtles hatch that evening, Murphy was impressed with their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the turtles. And she posed a challenge to them.

“Murph gave us a challenge to see how we could help NEST from afar at home,” recalled 10-year-old Ayden McFate.

The McFates decided to take her challenge seriously and use it to create a summer project that would raise money for NEST. Ayden explained why.

“Because they’re on the endangered species list. They’re actually on the highest level of endangerment, which is critically endangered…They need our help,” said Ayden. He added that one problem is human pollution, especially when the turtles get caught in netting and can’t come up to the surface for air. He also pointed out that they confuse balloons for their favorite food, jellyfish. That’s one of the kids’ favorite facts about sea turtles.

“They are immune to the jellyfishes sting,” said Ayden, adding that if the sea turtles disappear, “Well, the ocean would be overflowing with jellyfish.”

Addison with a fundraising sign the kids made together. (Photos courtesy of the McFate family)

The family’s first effort was an online 50-50 raffle in July which raised $530. On Aug. 3, they launched a gift card raffle and plan on announcing the winners on Aug. 26. The children have been working hard to get companies to donate gift cards for their raffle.

“First, we got a letter from NEST saying who NEST is and letting them know that we’re doing this fundraiser for them. Then, we compiled our own letter with mommy’s help and sent those letters off to the company,” explained nine-year-old Addison.

The research paid off and the McFates received gift card donations from Costco, P.F. Chang’s Cheesecake Factory, Walmart, Target, Kroger and more.

To help with their communication skills, the kids have also been conducting their own telephone and video business meetings with potential donors, including a lot of their parents former co-workers and old friends from college, to request their help.

“We improved really good,” noted Ayden. “Two days ago, mommy was doing most of the speaking. Now we’re doing most of the speaking on the phone calls. She’s only saying hi and explaining things we didn’t explain that well.”

“And dialing the number,” added seven-year-old Erron.

To get the word out to the public about buying raffle tickets, the kids set up a Facebook page, that currently has 69 members, with the help of their mom. There, they practice their public speaking skills by showing the audience how the gift card raffle works and giving updates through videos.

Addison, Erron and Ayden and their fundraising gift cards. (Photos courtesy of the McFate family)

Addison says her favorite aspect of their project are the skits they do to inform the members of updates for the raffle. The kids have even used Romeo and Juliet, a play they learned about in homeschool, to help them learn how to make skits for their videos.

So far, they have raised $310 of their $500 goal. “It feels really good. I love doing it. Every part feels really good,” said Ayden.

When told that the McFate family was inspired to do this because of her challenge, Murphy told the Voice.

“The McFate family homeschoolers are the ones who are inspiring. They have worked long and hard to bring their gift card raffle in support of NEST to fruition. For their sake and our sea turtles, I hope they far surpass their goal of $500. Their teacher mom also should be commended for her interdisciplinary approach teaching the children about sea turtles as well as raising funds for a worthy cause.”


  • Debbie

    Please be sure to remind folks who live away from the beautiful Outer Banks that they, too, can help Sea Turtles, by NEVER EVER EVER RELEASING HELIUM BALLOONS.
    Thank you
    Help me get much needed Legislation

    Tuesday, Aug 15 @ 7:41 pm
  • Glenn

    Thank you McFates for helping to support local efforts to look after our turtles and other coastal creatures. We wish the entire family the very best and hope ya’ll will continue to visit our area for years to come. Great story!

    Wednesday, Aug 16 @ 6:55 am
  • Michaelangelo

    Turtles, been around for an eternity, another species that humans have decided need their help 24/7/365…

    Wednesday, Aug 16 @ 10:12 am
  • Tom

    Yes sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act but none of the species that nest in NC are “critically endangered”.

    The green sea turtle is listed as endangered, the loggerhead sea turtle is listed as threatened, and leatherback sea turtles are listed as vulnerable.

    Wednesday, Aug 16 @ 12:25 pm