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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA

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Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA
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Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: Boca Raton
Posts: 1
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I founded a youth volunteer program at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge called the Habitat Awareness and Protection Program for Youth (H.A.P.P.Y.). Students protect local Everglades habitat by removing invasive plants and animals that threaten native wildlife. My 140-member program currently has volunteer chapters at eight high schools and middle schools in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Our main focus is combating invasive species; among other activities, we’ve canoed to remove exotic snail eggs, trapped invasive Cuban tree frogs, and harvested cypress seeds for Everglades restoration projects.

I visited the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge as a field trip through the Pine Jog Fellowship’s summer semester. At a seminar from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (which runs the 584 National Wildlife Refuge nationwide), I was appalled to learn that about 26% of all South Florida wildlife is exotic, more than anywhere else in the country. Of these 26% exotic species, some become invasive species that decimate local wildlife, especially in the fragile Everglades. I decided to start a youth volunteer program that would help remove invasive species and restore native plants and animals on Refuge grounds. My proposed youth volunteer program would complement the existing volunteer program, which is not at all aimed towards youth (volunteers are required to spend 35 hours per week in a trailer in the middle of the wetlands, an arrangement that is certainly not student-friendly).

Two weeks after the seminar, I met with Serena Rinker (Loxahatchee’s outreach coordinator) and Lisa Jameson (Loxahatchee’s invasive species biologist) and successfully obtained approval for our program. I picked the date for our first volunteer session – Saturday, September 25th, which is also National Public Lands Day. As for the program’s name, I brainstormed for a catchy name until I finally landed on the acronym H.A.P.P.Y., which stands for the Habitat Awareness and Protection Program for Youth. I also proposed linking H.A.P.P.Y. with a network of volunteer chapters at local schools, thus supplying the program with a steady stream of volunteers. I would start with a chapter at my own school, Atlantic High, and continue expanding throughout South Florida.

Most of my initial work involving starting up the first H.A.P.P.Y. chapters at Atlantic. We presented our volunteer program in all of our classes and at countless school functions. Although H.A.P.P.Y. is an independent organization, I also chose to partner with existing service organizations at our schools (e.g. Environmental Club, Key Club, and National Honor Society) and offer H.A.P.P.Y. as a volunteer opportunity through those service organizations. Ultimately, I ended up with a 140-member volunteer base with H.A.P.P.Y. chapters at eight local high schools and middle schools in two counties.

I planned and organized biweekly volunteer sessions for my group. Among other activities, we’ve canoed to remove exotic snail eggs, trapped invasive Cuban tree frogs, removed invasive plants, and harvested cypress seeds for Everglades restoration projects. H.A.P.P.Y. volunteers also maintained a native-vegetation area near the boat ramp, pouring mulch and weeding out invasive plants. I basically organized every aspect of these volunteer sessions, e.g. recruiting volunteers and securing the necessary equipment, e.g. canoes, gloves, shovels, etc. So far, over four volunteer sessions over two months, H.A.P.P.Y. volunteers have contributed 420 hours to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. By the end of the school year, we expect to reach our goal of 1000 hours.

To fund the equipment expenses, I personally wrote a grant proposal for the Captain Planet Foundation. I will find out in January if my project has been selected for funding. My project is also scheduled to be featured in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional and national newsletters, which are the federal agency’s official publication.

H.A.P.P.Y. doesn’t just benefit the environment, it also contributes to the South Florida community. I was able to involve over 140 local students in our project, and I also worked with numerous community partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (a federal government agency) Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, Home Depot, and a local photography agency that provides us free professional photographs to document our work.

My project will continue in the future. Although I am a high school senior, I am currently training future leaders so that H.A.P.P.Y. will continue to be a force in the community even after I graduate. I have appointed two Vice Presidents, Andrea Martinez and Whitney Sha from Atlantic and Spanish River High respectively, to lead H.A.P.P.Y. after I graduate. Before they graduate, they too will appoint Vice Presidents to lead H.A.P.P.Y. when they are gone, thus continuing my program into perpetuity.

H.A.P.P.Y. has also impacted me personally. Wherever I go to college, I hope to apply my environmental leadership skills to my local community. For example, I hope to expand the youth volunteer model that I developed at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to other National Wildlife Refuges across the country, creating a student-driven environmental organization that would contribute to both the local wildlife and my college community. As an aspiring pharmacist, I also hope to pioneer sustainability initiatives in my workplace.

Finally, my project also had an important psychological impact. Our community lives in a concrete jungle of suburban sprawl and strip-malls, which alienates us from the pristine beauty of the Everglades wetlands just a few miles away. Through hands-on service projects, I believe that H.A.P.P.Y. helped reverse this urban alienation and increase environmental awareness, one student volunteer at a time.
Date: December 24, 2010 Views: 8844 File size: 18.3kb, 85.4kb : 720 x 540
Hours Volunteered: 420
Volunteers: 140
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 12 to 18
Native Trees Planted: 20
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