Sophia and the Pandas


By: Teresa Dietrich

Sophia Tuinstra spent the days leading up to her first meeting with mentor Ellen Doyle, constitutional lawyer, studying the constitution and having nurses quiz her on various components. And when she met human rights activist and lawyer Bryan Stevenson she was prepared with a scrap of paper filled with carefully thought out questions. Although Sophia embodies the maturity and dedicated nature of a seasoned lawyer, she still finds joy in trips to places other than the nearest courtroom. Last week, she and an entourage of family and Connecting Champions members visited the Pittsburgh Zoo. 

Sophia was there to visit with her favorite animal–the red panda. Equipped with a panda-decorated shirt and a visible enthusiasm, Sophia and her group were escorted into the habitat of the red pandas at the zoo. The beautiful animals were draped over branches and perched on tree stumps, eagerly greeting the zookeepers and allowed Sophia to gently stroke their heads. 

Never without a smile, Sophia was enamored of the soft, reddish-brown fur of the pandas. Throughout the time there, Sophia absorbed the facts the zookeepers told her, her quick mind filing them away with the lists of constitutional amendments. It was wonderful to be able to provide the opportunity for Sophia to meet the red pandas, and while she still plans on going to law school, we know that if anyone can get a law passed to allow red pandas in courtrooms, it’s Sophia.

Activity Kits

National Geographic Science Magic Kit

​Help 8-year-old Joe

Future Scientist

Get a science experiment kit to explore with his mentor!

​Help 9-year-old Myla

Future Artist

Get art supplies to create with her mentor!

Help 23-year-old Erik

Future Coffee Barista

Get coffee supplies to learn how to create specialty drinks with his mentor!

The pandemic showed many people what social isolation is really like. It also showed there are many other great ways to connect. That’s why we launched our activity kits. These mailed out packages provide fun activities for our mentors and kids/young adults to do together — virtually.

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