Chances are that if you’ve lounged anywhere cool in Atlanta over the past few years, you have Michele Stumpe to (partially) thank for that tasty cocktail. She carefully balances her professional life as one of the top Atlanta hospitality and retail industry lawyers (specializing in alcohol licensing) and partner at the law firm of Taylor English Duma, with her personal passion focused on philanthropy, specifically the nonprofit she helped found with her husband, Kerry. Children of Conservation’s mission is to help conserve and protect endangered species in third-world countries through education, habitat preservation and wildlife sanctuary support. Get to know our newest FACE of Atlanta and why Michele Stumpe is making an impact in our local community as well as the global one.
What is Children of Conservation? How were you inspired to start the organization?
We’re a 501(c)3 that promotes and advances the conservation and protection of endangered species in third-world countries through holistic humanitarian projects that impact education, habitat preservation and wildlife sanctuary support. Our inspiration came from working directly with animal rescue centers in Africa. My husband and I spent our honeymoon volunteering in Cameroon — we saw that the biggest threat to endangered species is people (de-forestation, pet trade, hunting for bushmeat). We also experienced first-hand the love and passion the African workers had for protecting the animals. Unfortunately, conservation in most African countries is not economically sustainable and is therefore not a priority with the community leaders. It became clear that finding ways to give those with the passion a voice, and finding ways to improve human lives because of conservation is the best way to advance the protection of these animals.
As we started to explore these ideas, we learned that most wildlife center workers struggled to send even one child to school (tuition and books can often cost most of one’s yearly salary due to a lack of public education). It seemed only natural that our first project would be a scholarship program to pay for the educational fees of these kids, thereby creating future leaders who come from a background of a passion for animals. Education is the path out of poverty in most of these countries, not only for the child educated, but for their entire family. As such, we also found that simply sending these children to school elevated the value the community placed on conservation because “only people with noble professions can send their children to school.” Through this program, we’re not only building a future, but we’re providing an immediate tangible economic benefit of conservation. We currently sponsor 158 children in five different African countries, are in the process of building a middle school in Zambia and are evaluating other projects that will positively impact both humanitarian issues and endangered species
Besides Children of Conservation, you’re also a board member of The Giving Kitchen. How did philanthropy become such a big part of your life?
As a lawyer, I’ve spent the last 23 years of my career representing and defending restaurants and the hospitality industry. The owners of Muss & Turner’s have been clients since they opened. When Chef Ryan Hidinger was diagnosed with cancer, it was overwhelming to see the industry come together to support one of their own. I was blessed to have been part of the decision process to form The Giving Kitchen and to continue to be able to play a part in its growth, which has been truly a culmination of a tremendous amount of effort by a lot of folks — too many to name or give credit to, but it all started with Ryan Turner, Chris Hall, Todd Mussman, Mike Gallagher and Jen and Ryan Hidinger.
We’ve heard getting a liquor license requires a lot of hoop jumping. What’s the craziest story you’ve heard about a restaurant trying to get their license?
A number of years ago, I went to a small town to file a license for a client. They wouldn’t let us submit anything via fax, email, FedEx or even courier – we had to go in to physically hand in the application. When I got there, it was like a ghost town with one car parked in front of City Hall. The City Clerk processed the application and told me to go two doors down the hall to turn in the background checks with the police permits office. When I got there, it was the same woman, but she had put on a police hat. She greeted me as if we hadn’t just spoken 30 seconds earlier. At first I thought she was a twin (albeit dressed the same as the clerk except for the police hat), but then she told me to go to the next door to get my receipts and inspection requests from the building department. As I got up, she got up, took off the police hat and walked in the back hallway to the next room. Yet again, she greeted me with a friendly, “Hi. Can I help you?” It was like being in an episode of “The Twilight Zone!”
You work with some of Atlanta’s top restaurants. Where’s your favorite place(s) to dine out in our fair city?
That’s a tough one. I love the lobster roll at Beetlecat, and Local Three Kitchen & Bar for a relaxed business lunch or dinner (mmmm, parmesan truffle popcorn and trout). By Chastain Park, I adore Café Posh for delicious food that makes me feel healthy, Cibo e Beve’s Italian dishes, Superica for Tex- Mex and Tin Lizzy’s Cantina for a more casual bevy of tacos. If I’m in East Cobb, you’ll likely find me at Common Quarter (love the atmosphere). Of course if you want a truly delightful culinary experience in Old Fourth Ward that feels like that secret hideaway, it’s got to be Staplehouse (Bon Appetit‘s No. 1 new restaurant in America), Venkman’s for a fun night out of entertainment and un-bar food, and Jay Swift’s new place, Noble Fin, if I’m near Peachtree Corners. JP Atlanta downtown is great for a more formal, excellent dining choice. On the west side, I love Cooks & Soldiers and The Optimist, or JCT Kitchen for good old Southern dishes. I haven’t been to Double Zero’s new Decatur location yet, but I loved it on Roswell Road, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.
How can people in Atlanta get involved with conservation efforts happening across the globe?
Atlanta is a great city for people with a passion for conservation in Africa. There are a number of terrific conservation organizations and a lot of Atlantans with ties to Africa. For an organization like ours, there’s a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes to run these projects and we rely heavily on volunteers to make these projects possible. Whether it’s helping with fundraising events, grant writing, social media or administrative work – every bit of help makes a difference. If someone wants to get involved with these organizations, I would recommend that they reach out to the group’s executive director and see what opportunities might exist.
You’re one of the top Georgia attorneys in alcohol licensing and permits, so we have to ask. What’s your cocktail of choice (and where do you like to enjoy it)?
The House-Made Old Fashioned at The Southern Gentleman. It’s a great concoction of house-blended whiskey, Angostura and Memphis BBQ bitters. I also love the signature cocktails at Seven Lamps and Cook Hall.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t be discouraged by the inability to make a big splash, focus instead on what you can do and do it well. It’s okay that you’re not changing the world today – but don’t give up on changing someone’s world today.
What are three things you cannot live without (excluding friends, family and faith)?
- The smell of a gorilla (I know it’s quirky and a bit odd, but gorillas have a very distinct musky odor. That smell takes me back to my childhood working in the zoo, connects me with my passion for nature and reminds me of the kindness that draws me to these gentle giants.)
A big thanks to Michele Stumpe for sharing more about her life and the role she’s playing helping to heal the world. If you would like to get involved with her nonprofit, Children of Conversation, visit their website.
And as always, a huge thanks to our talented FACES photographer, CatMax Photography.
Read about even more inspiring women in our FACES archives. Click here.