Katelyn Haslebacher

Katelyn Haslebacher

2020 Amazing Kids - Portland Tribune
Age: 14
School: Sunset High School
Hometown: Cedar Mills, Or
Why she is Amazing: Katelyn's passion for elephants led to the creation of a foundation, All Ears Elephant, through which she raised nearly $4,000 for sanctuaries.



So fascinated with the big, majestic animals, Katelyn Haslebacher of Cedar Mill began her quest to see Asian elephants in Southeast Asia and, more specifically, Thailand. 

“I started a little campaign, you’d call it,” says Katelyn, now 14 and about to be a freshman at Sunset High School. “I had the thermometer thing drawn outside my room, for how much money I made to get myself to Thailand. I was going to buy my own plane ticket, and almost scheduled my own flight. I had $500 of a goal of $2,000.” 

Her parents, always aware of their daughter’s passion for elephants, rewarded her with a trip to Thailand as part of a family vacation. 

“As long as we spent time with elephants,” Katelyn remembers telling her parents. 

“It was awesome, amazing — exactly a year ago (June 16-July 1, 2019). It was by far the best vacation I’ve ever had,” she says. 

Katelyn’s lifelong love of elephants and her trip to Thailand motivated her to do even more. For a yearlong, eighth-grade project at Rachel Carson Middle School, she started her own foundation to benefit elephant medical care/research and sanctuaries, called All Ears Elephant. As a young violinist who has worked with rock violinist Aaron Meyer, Katelyn had a live concert event planned for April 5 (titled “Trunk and Groove”) to raise money — before the COVID-19 pandemic and crowd gathering restrictions forced it online. “Her dad (Mike) is a finance guy, and he does the business end and helped her research how to set up a 501(c)(3),” says Kristen Haslebacher, Katelyn’s mother. “She did an online event, and created the whole thing — collected video performances, asked different people to submit songs, and she put it all together using (Apple’s) iMovie and uploading it to YouTube. It was actually great.” 

Katelyn raised nearly $4,000, and wrote checks to two sanctuaries. Her website is allearselephant.org, at the top of which she quotes Henry David Thoreau: “All good things are wild and free.”

“It came together really well,” Katelyn says. “I ended up having a lot more musicians than I was going to have in person. Aaron helped me. The Brown Sisters and Michael Allen Harrison performed.” 

Meyer has been instructing Katelyn on violin in recent years, and featured her in his 2019 holiday concert. “In addition to being an eager and hard-working violin student, Katelyn is extremely bright, creative and kind,” Meyer says. “Katelyn appears shy at first and reserved, but she is not at all once you get to know her. “She is obsessed with elephants. She has elephant tapestries on her wall, she has an elephant bag, she has elephant pants and shirts and so on.” 

Meyer would travel to Southeast Asia to perform, and bring back elephant collectibes for young Katelyn, who also has collected about 15 stuffed elephants, an elephant sculpture and three pachyderm paintings. 

Her fascination with elephants began early. At 2 years old, Katelyn visited the Oregon Zoo and famous elephant Packy for his birthday. Packy was always her favorite. She also liked Lily. 

Elephants “have always been my favorite animal. I don’t remember a time when they were not my favorite animal.” As she got older, Katelyn did more research and eventually started talking about going to Southeast Asia to see elephants in sanctuaries — which the family made happen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. “The first elephant I saw came walking straight at me,” Katelyn says. “I was a little terrified; so much bigger than me. I got some bananas and started feeding them, and it was great. 

“It was really great seeing them up close. They have personalities, they’re a lot like people, each one you can tell is different.” 

She wants to continue her All Ears Elephant foundation, and “long-term, I’m hoping I can retire in Thailand and work at my own elephant sanctuary,” she says.