Nubs is a parakeet that was born in the suburban Chicago townhouse of a severe animal hoarder. When animal rescuers entered the feces- and mold-filled residence, they found more than 500 birds, 153 of them dead.
Of the birds that survived, many were injured, malnourished and had physical issues due to excessive inbreeding. Rescue volunteer Kristin Ludwig cleaned and processed the birds.
As Ludwig cared for the animals, one little bird followed her: Nubs, a one-legged parakeet. “While most of the flock were terrified and flying around wildly, this one-legged bird was friendly beyond explanation,” said Ludwig. “He was doing little tricks to get my attention and show off.”
Ludwig knew she had to adopt Nubs. She shared Nubs’ story with the residents of SOS Children’s Village, a group foster home for abused and traumatized children where Ludwig also volunteered.
“Over time they began asking questions like, ‘Is Nubs mad at the man who did that to him?’ ‘Is the man sorry for what he did?’ and ‘If the man tells Nubs he is sorry, does Nubs have to forgive him?’” Ludwig said. “They weren’t asking about Nubs anymore, but Nubs became the tool for the kids to ask the questions needed to process their own trauma. It was a groundbreaking moment for how we might use Nubs’ story to help the children.”
This inspired Ludwig to create the nonprofit NUBS (No Unwanted Birds) after its namesake parakeet. NUBS’ mission is to promote resiliency in children through the inspirational stories of rescued animals who have bravely given life a second chance.
Mental health expert and education veteran Crystal Silvestre of Family Guidance Centers learned of NUBS and its namesake parakeet on Facebook, and now works with NUBS to develop engaging and effective materials to reach kids on a mass scale.
“Resiliency training provides the coping skills needed to recover from past trauma and effectively handle any future misfortunes so that an individual may live a good, functioning life,” Silvestre said. “Research has revealed that resiliency training is particularly effective in children between the ages of seven to 12. Unfortunately, it is not taught widely today.”
Ludwig and her NUBS Squad teach kids resiliency, or “bounce backiness” as they call it, with workbook exercises and two books titled Nubs: A Little Bird with a Big Story and Remy: A Little Bird with a Big Imagination. Ludwig will launch a third book this summer about a googly-eyed dog that befriends and comforts an abused bunny.
In the beginning, the kids focus on the NUBS animals, but soon they begin bonding with the NUBS Squad volunteers. This helps the children build trust with adults, something the children will need in order to overcome their pasts and build normal lives.
Carmen Langford, education and activities coordinator of SOS Children’s Villages, has noticed a difference in the children since the introduction of NUBS.
“Our children who struggle with hyperactivity and impulse control actually work better with structured activities, which NUBS provides with monthly visits,” she said. “That consistency brings a great sense of security. The kids feel safe due to the relationships they have formed with the NUBS staff. Plus the birds are smaller and less intimidating than dogs.”
The NUBS Squad said they have never encountered a child they couldn’t work with.
“Our animals were born into homes where life wasn’t fair, and they were mistreated. They didn’t deserve it,” said Ludwig. “It’s the same for these kids, and that’s why it resonates with them.”
NUBS has a growing following on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Hoping to reach more children, Ludwig and Silvestre are writing a NUBS companion curriculum called Wings UpTM that aligns to Common Core classroom standards, which will launch this September.
Leah Burdick is an adoptive mom and founder of the Foster Coalition, a group that advocates for and works to elevate the national consciousness about foster care.