Possumwood Acres in need of some helping hands

Photo by John Sudbrink | The Daily News

The sole wildlife sanctuary in Onslow County is in need of manpower.

Possumwood Acres, a 17-acre wildlife facility in Hubert, provides safe haven for sick and injured animals of all species who need rehabilitation. The spring is its busiest time of year because of the immense needs attached to the bird population and the sanctuary has more animals than hands to care for them.

Toni O’Neil, owner, founded the location after moving to the area in the late 2003. She started volunteering and learning about raptors, songbirds and small mammals prior to the relocation and fell in love with the work. But, she needs help.

“We are it for the county,” O’Neil said. “Onslow didn’t have anything when we came here. We are all volunteer run because we don’t have the funds to pay people … yet, this tends to be the busiest season because of birds.”

Possumwood Acres provides a platform for students in the area to learn about animals through their education program and field trips. Volunteers can be of any age and experience level.

“We have the junior volunteer program, families who volunteer, some kids come in for community service hours,” O’Neil said. “It teaches responsibility. All we ask for from the people who sign up is that they be passionate.”

The facility has approximately 450 volunteers annually, but the transient population leads to gaps in its ability to retrain the people who are trained.

Even though O’Neil and her volunteer team are stretched thin, she says she wouldn’t change her long days for anything else.

“You’re not going to get bored ever. It is a lot of hard work, but there’s always that one miracle baby - you sweat bullets for it and by golly they make it and it makes every other thing bad that happened that year go away,” she said. “Miracle moments keep you on track. And if you don’t do it, who else will? You have to do it to give those animals a second chance. Numbers count. These species are disappearing.”

Sarah Burkhardt, 21, started volunteering with the sanctuary in August 2013.

“I learned about it when I was a student at Coastal (Carolina Community College) through service learning. I started volunteering and been here ever since,” Burkhardt said. “I think my favorite part is knowing I’m helping them (the animals). From where I’m from in Missouri, a lot of people don’t get to work with the wildlife. I’m helping animals survive who may not survive. I love them all.”

To become a volunteer with Possumwood Acres, visit possumwoodacres.org and click on the “How to help” tab. Day and evening shifts are available.