The garage annex of Echo and Michael Uzzo’s Bowie residence is home to more than tools or garden equipment. It is inhabited by about 60 amphibians, mammals and insects who regularly tour the state as part of lessons about wildlife and nature conservation.
The Uzzos started their nonprofit — Echoes of Nature — in 2010 and estimate that they’ve given “animal ambassador” presentations at several hundred schools, day cares, senior centers and special events each year. The couple has around five dozen animals living in an addition at their home — including turtles, rabbits, a chinchilla, a hawk and an owl — that are mostly adopted rescues.
They are hoping to expand their operation by creating a wildlife discovery center in the Bowie area that would feature indoor and outdoor animal exhibits as well as educational programming, Michael Uzzo said.
“We kept getting asked where our center was,” he said. “The idea is for [the center] to be a place not only for schools but also for families to go in and experience the rich wonders of Maryland wildlife.”
Christin Vare is the director of the summer camp program at St. Mathew’s Early Education Center in Bowie and said a local nature center would offer good field trip opportunities.
“That would be really exciting to know we have another option for a field trip that is local that we could support,” she said.
Vare said Echoes of Nature has presented at St. Matthew’s summer camp for about six years and that the children look forward to the visits each summer.
“The kids really love it. They’ve very excited to see nature brought inside where they can get a hands-on experience,” Vare said. “They’re always excited to see animals they wouldn’t normally see in their own backyard.”
Bowie KinderCare director Yuna Crockett said the children at her day care center were anticipating an Echoes of Nature presentation on June 26, which featured a live display of insects, a turtle and a chinchilla.
“They knew they were going to see insects, so they were excited about it,” Crockett said. “It’s something new.”
The Uzzos have been running their program since 2002, but formed their nonprofit eight years later partly to become eligible for grant funding for their nature center, Michael Uzzo said. A former community program educator at the Maryland Zoo, Echo Uzzo said she wanted to start an educational nature program geared toward Prince George’s residents.
“When I was working at the zoo, I never saw kids from our area,” she said. “I wanted to teach kids about wildlife. “The animals are the bridge between the children’s world and the outside. They’re helping to be the ambassadors for their wild cousins.”
Echo Uzzo said she hopes to have the first phase of the wildlife center project completed in the next few years and include a classroom space to increase the educational and family programming. Her husband estimates the project will be a multimillion-dollar investment and said the couple currently is researching grant opportunities and corporate sponsorships. He said the next step will be raising community support for the project.
“We want to increase public awareness about who we are, what programs are available and how we can provide service within the community,” he said.