David Vogel and his wife, Thais Lopez Vogel, share a passion for protecting the environment that was sparked almost two decades ago by their blended brood of children. “I remember when my oldest daughter was 7 years old, she was crying in the corner one Fourth of July because she said the fireworks were killing the polar bears,” recalls Thais. The Venezuelan native had met David in 2005 when they were both living in Orlando, and the two married in 2007, merging their collective four children from previous marriages into a family unit.
Their quartet of kiddos soon wondered aloud why they didn’t use eco-friendly spiral light bulbs in the house and began asking their parents to make some changes. Says Thais: “That became the driver for what we did next.”
A data scientist with degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University, David pored over research about the planet’s rapidly rising temperatures and determined that climate change was the single-biggest threat to Earth. Understanding that was one thing, but communicating it to the public in a way that would drive positive change was something else entirely. That’s where Thais came in.
As a former attorney for a petroleum company, Thais was well-versed in using facts to craft a compelling case. “I believe when you speak with your heart, people listen,” she says.
The couple moved to Jupiter in 2014—they live in Admiral’s Cove and also have a property in Abacoa—and became parents to newborn twins. They also committed themselves to creating a better world for those kids to live in, launching the VoLo Foundation the same year. VoLo, explains Thais, is a mashup of the couple’s last names—and a merging of their passions, priorities, and expertise.
Since its inception, VoLo has funded projects in the realms of education, health care and the environment that support a healthier, more sustainable planet. Seventy percent of VoLo’s contributions, says Thais, target science-based climate solutions. Among its many beneficiaries and partners are local groups including the Cox Science Center and Aquarium, Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park, and The Everglades Foundation, as well as national and global organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund.
“It’s not a red or blue issue,” says Thais, noting the partisan politics that have impeded progress in combating climate change. “It’s a green issue. When a hurricane comes, it doesn’t care where the Democrats or Republicans are. It’s going to come.”
Case in point: Hurricane Ian, which devastated coastal communities like Fort Myers and Naples before deluging other parts of the state last September. CoreLogic, a global property data and analytics provider, estimated the damage from the storm to be as much as $70 billion. CoreLogic also pointed out that the costs go far beyond that when you consider the residents who were displaced and the housing costs that will likely skyrocket as a result. Not to mention the fact that citrus, cattle, vegetable, and melon farmers also suffered staggering losses, according to the University of Florida, which will only drive prices for those goods higher.
“If you connect the dots, you see how everything is driven by climate change,” Thais says. “If we don’t act, future generations will live with the consequences.”
Florida is one of the areas on the planet most affected by global warming. According to VoLo’s 2022 annual report, the state experiences an average of 25 dangerously hot days a year and has faced seven consecutive above-average hurricane seasons and rising sea levels of an inch every three years. Local government has invested more than $1 billion in new infrastructure that can withstand rising seas and destructive storms, but Thais believes it is important to address the root causes of these issues, things like greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. “Environmental education needs to start at home,” she says. “Talking about things like not wasting food, reusing holiday ribbon, composting, and turning off the lights should be conversations that are not taboo.”
Builders, too, need to craft more thoughtful communities, Thais says. She points to Babcock Ranch near Fort Myers, a master-planned community that made it through Ian without losing power because it was designed with severe weather in mind. The ranch’s solar panels and underground power lines weren’t impacted by strong winds, and retaining ponds kept floodwater at bay.
VoLo strives to educate people who are looking to make a difference by sharing information about best practices through social media and on its Climate Correction podcast. The foundation also hosts an annual Florida Climate Week conference, gathering industry leaders and environmental advocates to discuss exactly how the state is being harmed by climate change and encourage people to become part of the solution. “It’s hard to change behaviors and ways of thinking, but when you speak from the heart and show people what’s right in front of their eyes, you can get there,” says Thais.
VoLo provides funding to organizations globally, but a majority of their outreach is focused on Florida. Of the 106 organizations the foundation funded in 2022, 70 were based in state. With VoLo’s support, Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park, for example, is now able to bring in students from Title I schools to learn about the 438-acre park’s natural habitats and how to protect them.
Facts drive the projects VoLo funds, and Thais and David put their passion and expertise behind everything they do. “There is a saying that information without data is just an opinion,” Thais says. “David lives by that, and with his focus on the science and the numbers, you get a sense of the impact [of climate change]. Not everyone understands the science and the technology behind it, so I am the bridge between what David does in the lab and everyday people. You have to have both data and heart to be an effective philanthropist.”
Looking forward, Thais believes that one of the most important environmental factors Florida faces right now is the $62.7 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funds that will be coming into the state to create clean energy and transportation jobs. “It could go amazing, or it could go sideways,” she says. “The main thing is, we need to look at how we are using these funds, and of course we want to make sure [the money] goes to climate change and the environment. It will be a big challenge for the state.”
She is cautiously optimistic—because of the young people who, like her children, are driving so much change. Thais points to 25-year-old Maxwell Frost as an example, the Orlando-based progressive activist who became the youngest elected member of Congress last fall. “He is a hero on climate and is trying to speak out to depoliticize this mess,” she says.
David, meanwhile, will be pouring more of his energy into VoLo Foundation’s Health Initiative in 2023, conducting research on how longevity and wellness are impacted by climate change.
Juggling the demands of a growing foundation with the challenges of raising 8-year-old twins is no small feat, but Thais says she approaches each day with discipline and organization. “You can do it all,” she says. “You can be a good mother, educator, and citizen. Your kids may not always listen to you, but they are watching what you do. Some mothers may worry about whether they are doing enough, or doing it right, but it will all be okay. As long as you model certain behaviors at home, they will grow up and be good kids.”
Presumably, their children will also carry on the Earth work they inspired their mother and father to begin.
Some of the couple’s top spots and activities
Brunch: Admiral’s Cove
Dining Out: Rocco’s Tacos and Lynora’s
Nature Fix: Jupiter Beach; John D. MacArthur Beach State Park for paddling
Art Appreciation: Art Basel [in December] and Wynwood Walls in Miami
Must-Read: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
With the Kids: Catch a movie at Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas in Jupiter (“We just saw Avatar: The Way of Water, and our twins were mesmerized and just loved it,” says Thais.)