Letizia D’Avenia: Miami Service Project 2021

Student Bio

Photo By Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, where I lived for the first 17 years of my life. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. I am excited to see where my journey in Miami will take me!


The specific institution which I volunteered for and which made the clean-up of Chicken Key Island possible, was the Deering Estate. The Deering Estate is an historical place, which preserves the estate of Charles Deering, Chicago industrialist, early preservationist, environmentalist, art collector, philanthropist and first chairman of the International Harvester Company (Deering Estate Foundation). Additionally, this is a place where the public can come in contact with nature and can get involved in different activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and yoga. Volunteering for such an institution has been an honor, and I am glad I was able to offer my day to clean up Chicken Key.


A topic that I am extremely passionate about is the environment. Growing up, all the people I have been surrounded with have taught me that the world is full of many other living forms, such as plants and animals, and we must respect them at all times. I participated in recycling campaigns (such as collecting bottle caps), and I have always been careful about my consumption of plastic. An experience that has made me even more sensitive about this topic was my environmental science class at FIU, where I learned on a deeper level how humans are the cause of pollution and destruction among many natural habitats. My heart was filled with worry and sadness, seeing all these images of innocent animals dying due to the consumption of plastic, and I decided that I wanted to make my part in cleaning up our world. With the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been hard for me to find volunteering opportunities in which I felt safe attending. This is why, when I discovered one of the activities in the “Discover Miami” class consisted in cleaning up Chicken Key (which is an island a little further away from the Deering Estate, in the middle of Biscayne Bay), I decided that I needed to take advantage of this. This island is specifically polluted because all the trash from Miami Beach is carried there, and with time it accumulates, creating hazards for its habitat.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)


I am grateful for the Honors College, because without being admitted into it, I would have probably never known about this amazing opportunity to make a difference. Additionally, this initiative could have never been possible without professor Bailly, who is committed to ensure that his students are able to create memories while doing activities that are meaningful, either to themselves (such as visiting museums and gaining new knowledge) or to the environment (such as cleaning up Chicken Key).

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC BY 4.0)

Where and What?

The way that the day of the clean-up was structured was functional and effective. The 9th of April, I met with my classmates at the Deering Estate around 10am. The weather for that day was phenomenal, around 70 degrees, moderately windy and sunny. The kayaks were already taken next to the shore, ready to be pushed in the water. We were all assigned a classmate to kayak with, and after we put our safety jackets on and loaded the kayaks with trash bags and water, we were ready to start this adventure. Before reaching the island, we stopped to enter a mangrove forest, which was mesmerising, since I had never been surrounded by mangroves, and the scenery that it creates it’s peculiar.

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

We continued to kayak for what seemed like an hour, and we finally reached the island. We pushed the kayaks on the sand, we tied them together (so they would not roll away), we grabbed our trash bags and we started collecting any objects that clearly did not belong there. I walked further down the beach and I reached a more isolated area, in which I found ropes, plenty of plastic caps, old plastic bottles and cans, plastic and glass pieces, and plastic buckets. The most interesting findings were a Gucci flip-flop, a decorated wooden frame (which looked like it belonged to a restaurant) and a broken Bacardi bottle. We actively cleaned up for about an hour and a half, and I personally filled up 3 trash bags. We then proceeded to relax for a bit, swimming around the island and chatting with each other. 

Finally, around 3:15pm, we loaded our kayaks with the heavy full trash bags, and we started heading back to the land. Since the waves were pushing us towards the shore, we had the chance to just lay and relax, listening to the wind blowing and the birds chirping. Once we made it back, we loaded the bags on one truck and the kayaks on another one, and we all laid down on the grass, feeling rewarded by all the hard work that we conducted that day. Once we were all rested, we had a last briefing, in which we gave our feedback regarding the experience that we had just done.


This is proof of the service hours from the Honors College.


Overall, I am satisfied with this community service activity. It has given me a much better understanding on how using plastic actually pollutes the environment. Although there are many initiatives to clean Chicken Key almost regularly, a lot of the plastic we found was old, and had probably been there for months or years. Additionally, trash from Miami Beach accumulates periodically and therefore it’s almost impossible to keep this island clean constantly. The fact that in three hours, fifteen students were able to fill out more than ten trash bags, really gave me an idea of how much pollution there is concentrated on that island. If everyone did their part and cared about the environment, we would be able to drastically reduce the amount of plastic we utilize and if we recycled it correctly, perhaps there would not be such issues. Another aspect of this day that worked extremely well was how I was able to strengthen my connection with nature. Living in a city, sometimes I forget that around us there is an entire world, filled with animals and plants, all coexisting peacefully. Being surrounded by nature really helped me to ground myself and to remember that there is so much more to life than just school. I do not believe there was anything that did not work, perhaps I wish we were able to collect more plastic from the island, but I believe that this though only gives me the motivation to go back to the next clean-up day. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC BY 4.0)


“Deering Estate History | Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, https://deeringestate.org/history/

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