Like many young people, Shelley Kier of Orange has been an animal lover for as long as she can remember.

But the difference between Kier and many of her peers is that she has taken her love for animals and made it a driving force in her philosophy of public service. Kier, who is currently a sophomore at Miss Porter's School, founded the Animal Rescue Kids Club (ARK) three years ago as a way to help animals. The goal of ARK is to provide young people with the tools to help animals through improving their habitats and to raise public awareness of animal cruelty.

You may have noticed a number of birdhouses that are placed at five different areas in the Regional Water Authority properties in Orange, Bethany and Woodbridge. These were the first ARK project and provide homes for screeching owls and kestrel, both endangered birds.

The initial funding for this project came through a $250 grant from the Town of Orange Youth Services Advisory Committee.

According to Kier, "My Mom was applying for some grants for her work, and it made me wonder if there was any money available for ARK. So I applied for a grant and we used it to buy the wood to build the birdhouses." The members of ARK continue to monitor the birdhouses to see who has taken up residence.

ARK has also founded the Renee Nee Wildlife Fund to raise money to purchase wildlife books for the Case Memorial Library in Orange. The fund is in memory of Renee Nee who was tragically killed in an automobile accident last July.

"I didn't know Renee well, but she helped to build the birdhouses and monitored them. We wanted a way to let people share Renee's love of animals," Kier said.

Members of ARK are raising money for the fund through the baking and sales of dog biscuits at local pet stores, such as Pets Unlimited. They are also accepting donations.

Kier's efforts to better the community don't stop with ARK. She also works with Blaze, her ten-year old female Welsh Springer spaniel as a pet therapist. She and Blaze routinely visits patients at Griffin Hospital in Derby, and are members of the Delta Society's Pet Partners Program.

Kier and Blaze recently worked at Pier 94 in New York City were the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) had a command post set up to help those left homeless and unemployed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"After the tragedy at the World Trade Center, I asked myself what I could possibly do to help people emotionally." Kier and Blaze underwent vigorous security at numerous checkpoints, showing their ID card from Pet Partners before they were allowed into the area.

"I will remember this experience forever, as people saw Blaze their faces lit up, and they told their stories. It was all worth it to see the happiness that Blaze brought to these people," she said.

Kier is also a varsity swimmer, tennis, and soccer player who traveled to Washington DC recently as part of the United Synagogue Youth's (USY) International Leadership convention. This by invitation only event recognized outstanding leaders from USY and included motivational speakers and classes on leadership.

If you are interested in joining ARK, contact Kier at (203) 799-6122. And to make a donation to the Renee Nee Wildlife Fund, mail your check to ARK at 44 Hampton Close, Orange, CT 06477. Checks should be made out to the Case Memorial Library/Renee Nee Wildlife Fund.