Hi, my name is Lauren Farina and I am a senior at Florida International University’s Honors College, majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry and a Certificate in Women’s Studies. My goal is to use my undergraduate knowledge and experience towards becoming a Physician Assistant with a specialty in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
I volunteered with Professor Bailly of the Honors College at Florida International University in partnership with the Deering Estate. Along with my classmates, we all canoed out to Chicken Key.
Due to the restrictive nature of the pandemic, it is difficult to find places that are able to accept volunteers. However, Professor Bailly was able to secure a volunteer opportunity for all of us. Most people would question how this particular opportunity relates to my career path, but I think it is more related than it seems. I’m certainly not the most inclined individual when it comes to the outdoors; I’m sure Bailly can attest to that. This class as a whole was completely out of my comfort zone, and Chicken Key was no different. Throughout the cleanup, I thought a lot about how much community service matters in all forms. I am a strong believer that everything in this world is connected; that helping the endangered species and trying to remedy the mess that humans have made of our planet is something that contributes to the betterment of us all. As I continue on the path to my profession, I find that work like this is what matters most in an aspiring health professional. It is important that we care about others, even if we are not the same. I think it is important to have experiences like this that ground you and bring you back to what is truly important in this world.
This experience was humbling in many ways. Canoeing is not as easy as it may look and it was especially interesting when you add 50+ pounds of trash. Once my partner and I got the hang of the paddling, it was satisfying and freeing to be going through the water by the work of our own bodies. I had so much fun on Chicken Key finding all kinds of different crabs and sharing these exciting moments with my peers. I think it is important to use experiences in your life that are special, like this one, to grow as an individual and reflect on how it makes you feel. This experience provided me with simultaneous uneasiness and comfort, and for all of it, I feel grateful.
WHERE & WHAT
This day of service was rewarding in more ways than one. When I arrived at the Deering Estate, I was first confronted with a canoe. Sounds funny, but I have only ever kayaked and the huge canoe was intimidating. I finally got in the canoe and my partner and I struggled to get going, but eventually we figured it out and were the first to land on Chicken Key. When we arrived, we had our final exam which was to run as far as you could into the water until you fell. It was so much fun and was a moment that all of the students could take to step away from “real life” and the responsibilities on our shoulders, and just enjoy with one another. We spent some time in the water talking about COVID vaccines, study abroad programs, and summer plans. We then got back on Chicken Key to begin the real work. All of us set out on the island to begin picking up trash. It was such a cool experience because we got to be with our peers in a new environment and help clean up the island. We also were able to see a lot of animals that we don’t typically see including lemon sharks, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, and hermit crabs. The experience allowed us to build and further friendships, which was definitely hard to do this year. After a few hours of cleanup we took a break in the ocean to cool off. It was the perfect day. I frequently lost track of time just floating in the water, either staring at the sky or closing my eyes. I appreciate moments like these where I can let go of stress, anxiety, and deadlines. After the break, we cleaned up some more. We found a rat’s nest within a boat mattress, a toilet seat, crates, beer bottles, helmets, soccer balls, and so many more items that you wonder how people could be so careless. When we packed our canoes up to go back, the amount of trash was upsetting to be completely honest. It’s hard to know that no matter how dire the circumstances of climate change are becoming, people still just leave their trash to drift into our water and harm animals. While it was a tough moment of realization, it was also a moment of pride for the work we all did together to clean up Chicken Key. We then canoed back to the Deering Estate, through some very strong winds that blew against us, which was challenging. We unloaded the trash and helped the staff bring it to the dumpsters. It was a long day and I think all of us took long naps after we got home, but it was so worth it. I felt more connected with my peers, nature, and myself from this experience.
Overall, this experience was one of the highlights of my year. It has been a tough one, to say the least, but this experience allowed me to be free of the last year. To be able to be out with a group of my peers learning and doing service for the betterment of our environment was something I haven’t been able to do for over a year that was previously a huge part of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my classmates and having such an enjoyable experience together. I would love to participate in this experience again and I know that I can because of the program started by another Honors College student. It was the perfect mix of work and play to end the semester and get some service hours!