Cameron Manor is only 12 years old, and yet she is the Butterfly Caretaker at the Environmental Nature Center (ENC) in Newport Beach, creates fun educational videos about science, makes and delivers free cupcakes to the elderly, and a story she wrote was published in Stone Soup, an international kids’ magazine! Through all of her hard work she was even named a Discovery Girl’s role model! Let’s talk with Cameron to see how she has managed to achieve so much so far.
AK: Congratulations on becoming an intern at the Environmental Nature Center (ENC.) What are you most excited to do now at the ENC?
CM: I am so thrilled to be helping out at the ENC! Because for the past couple of months the butterfly house has been under construction, I have been mostly weeding and ridding the butterfly house of wasp eggs. Apparently, wasps sting tree leaves, then lay hundreds of eggs under a tiny scarlet dome the size of a bead. If I were to allow these eggs to hatch, they would swarm the butterfly house, making it an inhospitable place for both children and butterflies. So right now, I am kind of a wasp detective.
Another problem is the ants. Last October, when I was interviewing to work at the ENC, I noticed a butterfly desperately trying to suck the nectar from an orange dangling from a ceiling string, but it couldn’t because it was infested with ants. The butterflies were starving to death because the ants got to their food first. They were fluttering on the ground, too weak to fly. Also, the milkweed butterflies love wasn’t flourishing in the butterfly house because it was grown in the shade. In order to solve this problem, we are growing milkweed in a separate green house under the sun and avoiding fruit.
Because I love gardening, I enjoy growing milkweed. I look forward to the day the new cocoons arrive, so then there will be butterflies once again in the house.
I am also looking forward to leading tours in the butterfly house, to teaching young children how they can be butterfly protectors and growers.
AK: When did you first become interested in butterflies?
CM: One day, when my little brothers and I were at the library, my mom said, “If you guys get all of your weekend homework done, we will go to Target and buy one thing each.”
I didn’t expect much. I would probably end up with some clothes. But when I wandered up and down the aisles of Target, a box caught my eye.
“Grow your own butterflies!” it read.
It was a green box with a picture of two kids holding up a cylindrical net. Around them flew the most beautiful butterflies. Something about it called to me
“Mom, can I have this one?”
I held the box gingerly on my lap all the way home, afraid to crush the butterflies I thought were inside. It was only when I opened the box and found only the green net cage and a tiny green spoon that I realized I had to mail away for my butterflies. There was a coupon inside the box with a special code.
A week later, a tiny brown box sat waiting for me on my doorstep. “Open immediately! Live insects inside,” it said.
I opened up the box, barely daring to breathe. Inside were five black baby caterpillars with yellow stripes. They were as tiny as slivers of thread. I read the directions fifty times to make sure I found the perfect home for them.
DO NOT PLACE IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT! DO NOT PLACE IN COMPLETE SHADE! DO NOT HANDLE UPSIDE DOWN! DO NOT OPEN LID UNTIL ALL BUTTERFLIES IN COCOON!
I was practically hyperventilating. I have never been in charge of such delicate creatures before, and I was going to make sure nothing happened to them.
The best part of hatching butterflies is watching them emerge from their cocoons. Sadly this has not happened yet as I always seem to be somewhere else when they decide to be born. I am planning to put a camera on them this time. What’s really cool is that you can see their wings inside their translucent cocoons, folded like hands in prayer.
Another of my favorite parts is decorating the bottom of the cage with a rainbow of flower petals and freshly sliced oranges. I love watching them drink the sweet nectar with their long proboscis, and planting tiny purple flowers in my garden so they will have nectar to drink and shelter from the rain. You can actually plant a butterfly garden that attracts these paintings in flight. Butterflies love herbs, flowers, and trees such as milkweed, dogbane, cow parsnip, fennel, dill, cottonwood, wild cherry, willow, maple, alder, willow, cottonwood, birch, alder, willow, gooseberry, currant, wild rhododendron, cabbage, mustard, nasturtium, thistle, and pearly everlasting. Each flower and plant attracts its own butterfly, so your garden is a recipe for color. You should even put out some nice rocks for them to sunbathe.
Letting my butterflies go is bittersweet. I don’t want to keep them in a cage, but it’s also hard to let them go. Watching them fly in different directions is an experience for the soul. I like to think they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me.
AK: What inspired you to start making science videos?
CM: My best friend’s dad is a movie director, so whenever I visit, Izzy and I make movies with all the equipment he has lying around the house. However, if you don’t have a best friend who has a film director dad, it’s pretty easy to make films on iMovie. Our first film was a gift for our friend’s birthday, and we filmed it upside-down. My friend Daniela loved it. We made four more before I saw an ad for a science film contest for Discovery Kids. I knew immediately that it was for me. So, I set about writing, producing, directing, and acting in my own fun educational movie for kids. Because of my interest in science, my first video was about interesting facts about germs. Did you know that one bacteria weighing one trillionth of a gram can kill a blue whale weighing over 100 million grams? Such is the power of germs. Another interesting fact I discovered was that people used to think that diseases were caused by evil spirits or naughty parents. I hope that by making important but boring subjects like this fun, kids will remember to wash their hands and sneeze into their elbows. In the meantime, I’m having a blast learning science and shooting films.
AK: What upcoming science films will you be making?
CM: My upcoming film is about the lifecycle of a butterfly. Although I have filmed my butterflies before, this will be my first educational butterfly video.
AK: What is your favorite kind of cupcake to make for Cam’s Caring Cakes?
CM: In the historic part of San Juan Capistrano, a famous chef grows his own vegetable garden and serves customers on his patio. This chef has the most incredible recipe for chocolate cake, which I modified for cupcakes. It has a few unexpected ingredients in it. I cannot tell you what they are. 😉
AK: What is the most rewarding part of giving free cupcakes to the elderly?
CM: Seeing their faces when I walk through the door with a platter of cupcakes. You can tell they feel forgotten, for nobody comes to visit them. It takes so little to lift their hearts.
AK: Congratulations on being picked in Discovery Girls’ Top Twelve Role Model Contest! What is the coolest thing about being one of Discovery Girl’s Top Twelve Role Models?
CM: Flying to San Francisco and meeting the eleven other Discovery Girls was the best part of being chosen. Since all of us were from different parts of the continent, everyone had the most wonderful stories. I still e-mail my new friends.
AK: Who are your role models?
CM: My sister, for showing me that hard work is the key to excellence. She never slacks off. She is a person of passion.
AK: What makes a good role model?
CM: Someone who has achieved much, yet still has humility. Humility and greatness is a rare and wonderful combination.
AK: What advice do you have for other children who want to help others and make a difference?
CM: Cultivate your passions and share them with others. This could be anything from baking cakes for the elderly to teaching kids math through magic.
AK: What other interests do you have?
CM: Writing to me is like living a dream. Anything can happen as I create worlds out of ink and paper. One of my best memories is seeing the story I wrote about my sister and me on the cover of an international kids’ magazine. Besides writing, I play tennis, collect porcelain frogs, and grow my own butterfly farm. Tennis involves strategy and athleticism. There is nothing like dashing around under the sun with your heart pumping, knowing that your next hit will determine the final score. I love the way frogs catch flies with their tongues and the cool wet texture of their skin.
AK: What goals do you have for the future?
CM: I would like to be a children’s book author and butterfly farmer. This way, I can write my books lying under the sun, my back on the soft green grass as my butterfly friends flit around me. One of my other interests is science. I love how in science, there is always a new mystery to figure out, a new idea to invent, and something to discover. I want to unlock the secrets of the universe, and run where no one else has traveled.
AK: Anything else you would like to add?
CM: I think the secret of life is to find something that you are good at and run with it. It could be anything from learning how to fly on a trapeze to growing your own butterfly garden. Also, it’s important to give back to others by sharing your passions, because when you know that your life makes a difference to other people, you are less likely to be foolish with it.