Young people will play a leading role for a cleaner, greener environment; therefore, it is important to prepare them to be good environmental citizens. Engaging youth in environmental protection and conservation will not only change their behaviors and attitudes but possibly influence their parents, relatives, and families. We wanted to make sure that students attending our program would come out ready to improve their schools, homes, and neighborhoods.
To kick off Environmental Day, we started at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida, where we were greeted by Tabitha Biehl, the Environmental Lands Stewardship Coordinator for Polk County Parks & Natural Resources Division. She invited Ms. Joan from the Woodland Wonders Wildlife Rehab Center to talk with the girls about how her non-profit organization provides care and treatment for injured, ill, and orphaned wildlife. The girls had great questions about how Ms. Joan took care of the animals and if they were released back into the wild. Ms. Joan encouraged the girls to get involved in wildlife preservation by volunteering at the Woodland Wonders Wildlife Rehab Center.
The day continued with a tram tour around Circle B. Tabitha talked to the girls about her career and how she became an Environmental Coordinator for the County. The girls not only learned about the wildlife at Circle B but also about the different career paths in science and math. The highlight of the tram tour was the opportunity for the girls to get “up close and personal” (at a tram’s length) with so many animals. They learned about animals and plants that are native to Polk County. Squeals of surprise were coming from the back and front of the tram every time we came up on an alligator sunning on the bank of the pond. Hands were raised all throughout the tram tour, and you could tell the girls were intrigued by the information they learned about animal and land protection.
Once lunchtime rolled around, we headed back to the Circle B meeting room and had a delightful lunch with Commissioner Melony Bell. She shared stories about her career in city and county government and her family’s very successful apiary (bee) business. She encouraged the girls to follow their dreams and continue to move forward regardless of any fear or obstacle they may face.
The next stop in our Program was the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Auburndale, Florida. Here, the girls learned about the Florida aquifer and its importance in our everyday life and as one of our most valuable natural resources. They learned about water conservation and how to keep our aquifer clean by disposing of our waste correctly. They took a tour of the plant and saw the different cleaning phases that water goes through for it to be reused.
We ended our day at the Polk County Landfill, or the “Dump” as the girls referred to it. The girls were greeted by Ana Wood, Director of Waste and Recycling and her management team made up of all women. The women that they met were all experts in their field and had some great words of wisdom about different career paths like accounting, engineering, and gas well operations. The girls quickly grasped that it was special for them to hear from a management team made up of all women. The presentation was followed by a bus tour of the landfill, and they learned that no one does garbage like Polk County. We really do have a state-of-the-art waste and recycling system.
Environmental Day was a great start to this Youth Leadership Program. On our way home the girls took the time to write in their journals about their experience, some of them had over five pages of notes! We also received great feedback from some of the speakers on how engaged and responsive the group had been. We are excited for the next four sessions of the program and hope that it continues to stimulate the girls and expand their knowledge.
Brenda Torres and Reba Coil
Comments from Speakers:
“Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of this Leadership Program. Girls Inc. is such an excellent program and the group of young leaders you brought today were a testimony to that. One of the best tram tours we have done for a youth group in a long while. Thank you very much!! Please let us know how we can support the program to keep it growing!”
Tabitha Biehl, Environmental Lands Stewardship Coordinator, Polk County Parks & Natural Resources Division