Local Teen Determined to Help the Animals


Lisa Patrick

The Ashland Beacon


   Mary Lara Hardesty just turned 17 and she is already taking steps toward America’s future - the future of America’s native animals in particular. Mary Lara makes amigurumi animals and sells them, but she doesn’t keep a dime more than what she needs to buy supplies to make more of them. She donates all of the proceeds to help facilities across the country that she believes are doing the most good toward helping the wildlife population in America survive and thrive.

   Mary Lara started making and selling amigurumi animals last year when the Coronavirus pandemic hit and everything shut down. She had received a book about making amigurumi woodland creatures for Christmas 2019. Amigurumi is Japanese for “to crochet in the round.” Mary Lara follows several different American zoos and aquariums on Instagram as part of her interest in animal conservation and was worried about how the animals were going to continue to be taken care of without the revenue from tourism. She said that “the animals still need to eat and they still need keepers to come in and take care of them” even when there is no money coming into the facility from visitors.

   Her mother, Teresa Hardesty, started posting her creations on Facebook and people started offering to buy them and placing orders for the ones that they wanted. Then someone asked her if she could make a Baby Yoda. She found a pattern for a Baby Yoda and it has become a very popular item. The work that she is proudest of is a piece that she “Frankesteined together” from other patterns and by creating her own pattern. A family friend had lived in New Zealand for a period of time and asked Mary Lara to create a kakapo, otherwise known as an owl parrot. She made the wings from a pattern she found for a barn owl, sized up the beak from the pattern of a parrot, and designed her own pattern for the feet “because I couldn’t find anything else that matched.”

   When Mary Lara reached her first $100 in profit from her creations, she donated it to the Clearwater Aquarium. She tries to pick places that she has a “personal connection” to or that she feels are “doing the most good.” Her personal connection to Clearwater Aquarium is through Winter, the dolphin that lost her tail in a crab trap. When Mary Lara turned 13, her mother took her to Clearwater to visit the home of the dolphin made famous by the movie documenting her prosthetic tail, Dolphin Tale.

   Another place that has received a donation from Mary Lara is the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that is working hard to save the population of the American Red Wolf. Mary Lara says that many people have heard of the American Grey Wolf but not many know that the red wolves even exist because there are only 20 to 30 red wolves left in the wild today. The Commission is working on breeding them and releasing them into the wild to try to save the species.

   Mary Lara focuses her donations on smaller locations that are trying to save American wildlife because bigger places like the Georgia Aquarium and the Cincinnati and Louisville Zoos will get remembered, but she explained, “I don’t want the smaller places to get left behind” during the pandemic when tourism funds are lost. Mary Lara researches locations carefully before donating to them because she wants to make sure that they are doing something “that I believe in.”

   To date, Mary Lara has donated $825 to eight different animal conservation groups across the country. She keeps some of the money to restock her supplies but shared, “I now have plenty of yarn and hooks and a good supply of the safety eyes,” so at this point she is able to donate 80% of the sale of each amigurumi animal to help real animals survive.

   Mary Lara prices her animals based on how big they are, how long they will take her to create, and how much material she will have to use to make them. A Baby Yoda amigurumi creation is priced at $25. Smaller pieces cost less but custom creations that she really has to work to piece together will run a little more.

   Mary Lara is currently enrolled in a home-school program as a high school junior. She swims on the YMCA swim team and is a Girl Scout Ambassador on the national level. She also works as kennel staff at the Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods where she gets to comfort animals during procedures now that owners are no longer allowed to be in the rooms. Her future plans revolve around saving animals as she hopes to start working in the zoo system with her dream job being a zookeeper. She wants to work her way up in the field until she eventually gets to be one of the people involved in the planning of species conservation.

   For anyone interested in purchasing one of Mary Lara’s creations, please contact her mother, Teresa Hardesty, through Facebook as she has not yet created a craft page for her work. Mary Lara does tell everyone that orders that “it will take a little time” as school and work has to come first.