It's one thing to have a passion for animals, help out at a local zoo, and even do some pro bono work for a gorilla sanctuary in North Georgia. Michele Stumpe, an attorney at Taylor English Duma, is way beyond that. Thirteen years ago, Stumpe took a trip to Africa to volunteer at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.
The experience changed her life, she said, and led her to create Children of Conservation, a scholarship for children of workers in African animal sanctuaries. Stumpe came to Atlanta in 1993, a graduate of the University of South Carolina Law School, and took her first job with Long Weinberg Ansley & Wheeler. She and two partners left in 1997 to start their own firm, and she joined Taylor English in 2006.
"I had developed an expertise in alcohol compliance issues for clients and had enjoyed a great deal of success as a litigator, among other things, obtaining the two highest verdicts ever against MARTA [Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] in negligent security cases," Stumpe said. "I was recruited by Taylor English for both my litigation and alcohol compliance expertise."
They also got someone who saw African families in need -- someone who decided not to just talk about it or worry about it, but to do something about it. What started as a nonprofit organization helping 13 kids, now has a goal of educating 500 African children by 2015.
Stumpe talked to the Daily Report about her work in Africa.
In 1999 you took a sabbatical and went to Africa for the first time. What drew you there?
I had volunteered at a zoo as a teenager and always had a passion for gorillas and other great apes. As such, I had a lifelong dream to go to Africa. In 1999, I started looking for opportunities to volunteer.
How did you come across the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon?
I offered to provide legal services pro bono for a gorilla sanctuary in North Georgia operated by the Dewar Wildlife Trust. One of the founders was making a trip to the sanctuary and invited me to come along.
Five years later you went back to Africa on your honeymoon, and you and your husband both volunteered at the wildlife sanctuary. No Niagara Falls or Jamaica? Where did you get this commitment?
I had just started dating my husband when I took my first trip. I returned with a new perspective on life and decided to start my own firm so I could use my practice to raise money to help the people and animals in the sanctuaries. A year later, I opened my own firm and [my husband] Kerry gave up his architecture career to help. He shared my passion for animals, volunteering, adventure and the people of Africa. We were married at the gorilla sanctuary in North Georgia and working in Africa was something we both had a drive to do.
You came back with a new perspective on life. What changed? How did you feel?
The workers at these sanctuaries have so little. Most don't have any indoor plumbing or even an outhouse, yet they have a tremendous inner peace. They're passionate about their work and they don't mind living without certain conveniences if it means they might be able to send one of their kids to school. I realized that it doesn't take much to make a huge difference in someone's life -- or to provide support for a highly endangered species -- and that I had the present means to make that kind of a difference without much of a sacrifice at all.