Stephanie Gudiel: Miami Service Project 2021


My name is Stephanie Gudiel, I am an FIU honors student majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Business. I am a little introverted, but I enjoy every opportunity to put myself out there and experience something new and at times different.


I volunteered at the Chicken key cleanup and the institution that made the cleanup possible was Deering Estate, which was the home of Charles Deering until 1927 when he died. Since then it has become an archaeological, environmental, and historical preserve open to the public with a paid admission. The estate is currently open for people to walk around and go in the main houses, normally they also hold events such as hikes, kayaking tours, ghost tours, nature walks, and even yoga, however due to the pandemic some of these events are no longer operating, or they are very limited. Before Charles deering made this land his home, there used to be Tequestas that settled in this land, and Seminoles that used it as hunting grounds. It is very interesting to see and walk the same paths as these indigenous people as well as early Miami settlers.

Photo by Stephanie Gudiel (cc by 4.0)

I chose this specific opportunity because it portrays who I am pretty well. I like to be outdoors, enjoying the sun, being by the water; simply put, it’s my happy place. At the same time, I always try to consistently volunteer, giving back to my community is something I am passionate about, currently I volunteer at my local church and before that I used to volunteer at my local hospital. In this case, I wasn’t giving directly back to my community but I was helping the environment and supporting a very important cause that in my opinion should have more awareness. I would say this opportunity was the perfect combination of my two favorite activities.


I connected with this volunteer event through my Discover Miami Honors class from FIU. This class as a whole has brought me many new unforgettable experiences and shown me a different side to Miami.


On April 9th 2021, I woke up and noticed it was nice and sunny, the weather was perfect for the adventure that lied ahead. I drove out to Deering Estate to meet my classmates at the dock by 10am. By the time I got there, the kayaks and canoes were lined up with life jackets and paddles, ready to be pushed onto the water. Professor Bailly gave us a rundown of how the day was going to go and what to expect of this day. We each chose a classmate to partner up with to canoe out to Chicken key. Chicken key is a small island about a mile off of Deering estate, a lot of trash and debris gets caught in the mangroves or is left behind on the island which affects the ecosystem as a whole. We packed up our canoes with trash bags, water, and our personal items, put on our life jackets and one by one pushed our canoes into the water. We each settled into our canoes with our partners and figured out how to paddle to go in the right direction. Once we managed to get the hang of it, Professor Bailly guided us through a mangrove trail that was absolutely breathtaking, being surrounded by nature and seeing our reflection perfectly in the water was astonishing.

Photos by Stephanie Gudiel (CC by 4.0)

We turned back around to head back in the direction of Chicken key, I will admit canoeing to the island was not as easy as I thought it’d be, especially since we were going against the current. When we reached the island as a group, we each pushed our canoes onto the shore and tied them to each other so they wouldn’t drift away. We left our life jackets in the canoes, grabbed our lunches, water, and trash bags and took them into the island with us. A few steps into the land there were little benches where we sat to relax a little bit, some of my classmates decided to jump into the water to cool down and others decided to enjoy their lunch. After everyone was re-energized we picked up a couple trash bags each and took them with us to explore this uninhabited island and pick up any trash we found in our path. There were so many items I found, all kinds of trash and things that simply did not belong in that ecosystem, some of them had been there for so long they almost became part of the environment. The animals built homes in some of the bottles found, or the plants themselves were wrapped around sandals and plastic. The majority of the items found were just trash that floats around in the ocean and gets caught in the mangroves, but if it is not picked up it can float back into the ocean and endanger sea life. Many fish and sea mammals accidentally eat plastic they find floating in their path and die from it, it can be something as small as a bottle cap that can kill one of these beautiful animals. Which is why these cleanups are very important, this island is covered in debris everywhere you look, but little by little as these cleanups continue and we each help out, we can help improve this ecosystem. We kept picking up trash for about two hours, and each of my classmates filled up about two to three trash bags, myself included.

We then headed back to our original sit down site with the benches, ate a little snack and jumped back into the water to cool down. Some of my classmates were exhausted and decided to take a nap, I wanted to enjoy the cold water and have some fun after walking around the island in the sun.

After some time we packed up our canoes once again, splitting the trash filled bags and headed back to the estate. Canoeing back was slightly easier as there was a part of the way where we were able to just lay back and let the current drift us to shore. Once we reached land we lifted our canoes back onto the dock and disposed of all the trash properly.

Photo by Jenna Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Below is the proof from Honors college.


Overall, this experience was very rewarding, and something I would like to do again, although it was physically demanding. While I knew pollution was a serious issue and many organizations have actively been trying to help with this, I did not understand the gravity of the situation when it came to sea life and their ecosystems. What I enjoyed the most from this experience was seeing every single one of my classmates put in their part and be equally motivated to do their best.

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