Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Break 2014: Making a Difference

By: Kirrin Peart

Kirrin Peart is the Volunteer Coordinator Assistant for Everglades National Park

As Spring Break begins, many college students flock to snowy slopes or warm sunny beaches to relax. There are, however, a select few who choose to embark on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) and for some, this means coming to Everglades National Park. This year, students from such institutions as Jackson College, Vanderbilt and Rice University came to Everglades ready to make a difference in this unique, one of a kind place.

During their week-long stay at the park, students embraced the mosquitoes as they camped and the intense heat as they worked. ASB groups work on many projects, including the removal of exotic plants from Flamingo and the Hole-in-the-Donut restoration area and clearing vegetation to help restore the historic Nike Missile Base. While many students worked hard to remove plants, others helped to clean up trash on the beaches of Cape Sable while still others worked to paint the buildings and benches at Hidden Lake Environmental Education Center.
The ASB at Everglades creates a multitude of service learning opportunities for students and allows each group to experience the park as most people don’t. As they progressed through their time at the park, work groups were asked to focus on three key aspects: reflection, education and service. Jackson College professor Kim McKeown, who organized and participated in this year’s ASB program at Everglades does this for many reasons, but predominantly for the goal of inspiring students to become service minded members of their community. By participating in programs such as this, McKeown hopes they will take what they have gained from the experience and carry it with them throughout life.
Everglades Volunteer Coordinator Kevin Bowles Mohr said that the ASB program is important because it provides students the chance to see and explore a national park that they might otherwise not have an opportunity to visit. They are also assisting the park and seeing the park in a new way, while gaining a sense of stewardship, Mohr said.
Thanks to generous funding by the South Florida National Parks Trust, Everglades National Park is able to accommodate over 150 students who donate more than 1,000 hours of service through the ASB program.

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