Johnny Casares: Miami Service Project 2021


My name is Johnny Casares, I am a student at FIU currently majoring in Computer Science. Since I lived in Venezuela, I always had an interest in both art and computer but never had the proper tools to dive deeply in these dreams. Now that I live in the U.S., I enrolled in the Honors College to continue to not only challenge myself academically, but also to take advantage of the opportunities I never had before.


I volunteered with the Deering State and the class of Discovering Miami in the collection of garbage from the island of Chicken Key, which’s fragile ecosystem is threatened by contamination. Volunteering with them was a decision I made for both convenience and my joy of connecting with nature. Despite of my major being computer science, a career that is mostly sedentary, one of the things I enjoy the most I being outside and being active with my body, and volunteering in Chicken Key gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy myself while positively contributing in my community.


What made participating in this volunteer service possible was the class of Discovering Miami, which is the one that introduced me to this local volunteer opportunity, and gave me and the class the chance to engage in an activity in which we make a positive impact and strengthen our connection with the community.


Professor John Bailly introduced me and the class to this great volunteer opportunity at Deering State.


On the April 9 of 2021, volunteers departed off the shores that caress the property of the Deering State into the island of Chicken Key, where most of the volunteer activity took place. Upon arrival the volunteers, including myself of course, made sure to collect the trash left by human activity on the island, as well as other types of debris brought ashore by the waves. Even though it is impossible for a small group of students to fully eliminate the waste off the island, every little action count when it comes to taking care and protecting of the unique and delicate ecosystem of Chicken Key and Miami as a whole.

One personal account of this event was finding a 2012 can of sprite while paddling on the way to the island. I thought it was both disturbing and amazing to make this finding because I could not believe how a can almost a decade old was not only floating in the vastness of the ocean, but also the fact that it was full, made me realize how inconsiderate/ careless people can be. However, I was surprised to how well conserved the can was and by the way nature itself adapts to these contaminant agents, embracing them and utilizing it to its advantage. Attached to the can, a small colony of goose barnacle were attached to the surface of the object. One of my assumptions was that they were there for the extraction of any nutritional content from the can, however, it later occurred to me that, considering these organisms have a hard time moving due to their physical structure, they might be using the can as an effective mode of transportation. Another little story is a cage I found while picking up trash, which was placed there to catch racoons. On the cage a small sign warns about not what is the trap for, and it explains that it is an effort to restore the endemic turtle population. I thought this was interesting because it made me realize that the damage humankind has done to nature is not only in the form artificial waste, but also by displacing animals into areas where they don’t belong, putting a whole ecosystem at risk.

Photo by Johnny Casares (CC BY 4.0)

From personal experience with volunteer opportunities, this was the best one so far. An important insight I got from this activity is that when we do something that matters to us causes an element of joy in the individual. It wasn’t only the fact that I was able to help the community and the environment, but also the fact that I could enjoy myself and spent time with people that shared that common factor of joy from the work done. Personally, a big factor of joy for me in this activity was the fact that I could engage in movement, I gave my body a good physical activity, and being outside and not confined by the walls of a classroom.

What worked the best in this volunteer service was the whole effort of all members into the main goal. I think we were all well informed of the issue we were dealing with and the objective of the volunteer service activity was clear. Cooperation was key to achieve what we achieved that day and it was the most effective tool for results. Another factor of importance was the proper displacement and disposal of garbage recollected from Chicken Key. Even though I do not know with certainty where that trash will end up, I am putting my faith that the institution in charge will make sure that it is properly thrown away. However, I have to add that this is an activity not meant for everyone as it is physically exhausting. I would advice only engaging in this activity if you are mentally and physically prepared for what the activity demands.


Below is the approval from FIU Honors college of the volunteer hours.


Overall, we had excellent results that were personally satisfying, considering that we left the place cleaner than we found it. Also, I want to add that this can become a unique opportunity to connect with the lesser known side of Miami, as well as being a perfect opportunity of trying something new such as canoeing while helping the community grow healthier and more united. From a more academic interest, knowing that the island has never been inhabited by humans, one can assume that a similar terrain and atmosphere was found in some other parts of the mainland before the major urbanization projects. This is an experience that goes beyond volunteering and can be an opportunity to become more connected to the city, community, nature, and even yourself.

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