When I was a young man I had a love for nature, science and exploration. I had a subscription to National Geographic, Zoobooks and Popular Science among others. One month I saw a flyer in on of those to "Adopt a Manatee". Manatee's also known as "Sea Cows" are these large gentle marine mammals that have been on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list for more than 4 decades. I first learned about them in school and instantly fell in love with their simple, gentle appearance.
Being a student I didn't have much money to my name and I spent most of it on stupid things like Magic cards, comic books and building toys. Seeing the opportunity to help out a helpless creature appealed to me (and the all around guilt that comes from growing up in a WASP family). One day I road along with my grandma to get some money out of my savings account at the Blue Ridge Bank (then at 9063 E Gregory Blvd, Raytown, MO 64133, which is now a U.S. Bank Branch). I withdrew $50 (a small fortune for a kid) in the form of a money order to be mailed in for my "adoption". My grandma didn't inquire what it was for, which was atypical for her, she likely thought it was for some large toy I was mailing off for instead.
I knew that they wouldn't send me a manatee, that was silly, but I dreamt that someday I might be able to go visit him. A few weeks after sending in my paperwork I got a certificate back with my name as an official "Save the Manatees" representative, a bumper sticker (nevermind I was too young to have a car), a pin and a picture of my new ward. Tucked inside was also a form to name him along with some facts about his age, where he was last spotted and the actions they were taking to keep him and all manatees safe.
At that time I was pretty deeply invested in reading religious texts and learning about how other faiths differed from my upbringing (a Baptist/Catholic/Methodist blend at this point) and I knew that Manatees spent a lot of time in the warmer waters around Central and South America so I came upon the name "Christos the Repentant". I filled out the paperwork and mailed it back in with the suggested additional donation to cover processing fees and what not. Sure enough I got back another official looking certificate with his name and mine listed at the bottom next to "In the care of". I proudly displayed this in my room.
Letters kept coming explaining the additional efforts they were taking and if they just had a little bit more money they could really make it stretch to cover the need. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I may have been a patsy and my money might never have been used for the intentions I had hoped for. After all how could $50 really take care of a massive creature like a manatee? I stopped responding but kept the picture, certificate and bumper sticker (the only thing that's remained all these years, it's still wrapped around an old coin jar I have in my attic).
I felt pretty silly but came out of the experience a little wiser, a little more skeptical and despite their shady actions with a stronger love for and appreciation of the gentle sea cow.