When Barry University volleyball coach Steve Hendricks moved to Florida he was amazed by the natural beauty and preserved wildlife that surrounds South Florida.
After a trip to Shark Valley, a national park in the Everglades, he perceived there may be a need for volunteers to help maintain its splendor. What he discovered was that the government's sequester had affected the park system nationwide, and parks such as the Everglades National Park were eager for volunteers to help maintain the beauty and accessibility for locals and visitors' enjoyment.
With a volleyball team as diverse as the population of Miami, it was certain that many of the student-athletes had never experienced the ecosystem of the Everglades, let alone the exotic wildlife indigenous to the area such as the Great Blue Heron, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Wood Stork and the alligators.
The team arrived in Shark Valley, 45 miles southwest of the Miami Shores campus, in the morning hours of Saturday Jan. 25 with the intent of cleaning up a few trails while maybe spotting a couple of alligators from afar. Little did they know what awaited them in the Everglades National Park. With the assistance of Park Ranger Kirrin Peart, serving as the volunteer coordinator, the volleyball team worked to create better vistas on the Borrow Pit Trail and trimmed back three months of growth along the entrance to the watch tower. In their four hours of service, the volleyball team provided a total of 56 hours of labor, using tree-trimming loppers. Many times during their work, the volleyball players were within a few feet of 10-foot alligators and other interesting and curious animals.
Laine Cielena, a sophomore middle blocker from Latvia, reflected on the time in the Everglades saying, “The community service at Everglades was an amazing experience for me as an international student coming from a country where one can only see alligators and the endangered species of birds at the zoo. We not only gave back to the community, but also gained a better understanding about the local ecosystem and the nature around us.”
Eva-Lotta Raat, a freshman outside hitter from Estonia, shared her thoughts: “It was great to experience the wildlife from so close. I would not have imagined that I could ever be that close to alligators and other exotic animals. It was great to see how our work helped to make the Everglades even more beautiful. I truly appreciate the opportunity to visit the Everglades.”
Dr. Tony Bonta, Director of Campus Ministry, joined the team for the day of community service, leading everyone through a reflection, while incorporating the core commitments of Barry University’s mission. Upon reflection, each member of the team shared that their service work was meaningful, educational and unforgettable.
“It was truly a privilege to participate in community service at Shark Valley," said Jasmine Serna, a sophomore libero from New Mexico. "I was able to visit one of the most famous national parks in the United States and serve the community at the same time. One of the tourists personally thanked us for our volunteer work, so it was nice to know our service was useful and appreciated.”