Natalia Sanchez is a senior pursuing her B.S. in criminal justice at Florida International University (FIU). She hopes to become a crime scene investigator with the Miami Dade police department. Natalia is passionate about helping others, therefore she is a volunteer for the bubble city community project and student support services. During her free time, she goes to local concerts or Miami Heat basketball games.
For my spring 2022 semester service project, I decided to volunteer at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Vizcaya is a popular tourist destination and historical landmark located in Miami-Dade. Vizcaya is positioned in the neighborhood of Coconut Grove. The estate is located along the shore of Biscayne Bay and it is hugged by a beautiful subtropical forest.
The Vizcaya estate consists of a house with Mediterranean-style architecture. The house contains important cultural collections that are as old as the early 20th century. There is a courtyard outside the part of the house that faces the ocean. The estate is then surrounded by 10 acres of gardens.
The property was built and owned by the industrialist James Deering. Construction of the estate took between the years 1914 and 1922. James Deering was known to be passionate about sailing, boating, landscaping, and plant conservation. This made him the perfect patron for this estate.
Currently, Vizcaya is open to the public. The public can walk around the house and see the multiple art installations. The art and furniture are in the same spot as when the house was being occupied by James Deering. The public is also free to enjoy the 10 acres of gardens.
I decided to volunteer at Vizcaya for multiple reasons. The first reason is that I am part of the FIU honors college. Every member of the honors college is required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. I decided that visiting the amazing estate would be a great way of not only gaining my hours but also giving back to my community.
Another reason why I decided to volunteer at Vizcaya is that I was able to come to this property for the first time ever thanks to the Miami in Miami course for the FIU Honors College. Living my whole life in Miami, I had never been able to visit Vizcaya. However, this course gave me the opportunity to visit and learn about the estate for free! This caused me to fall in love with this destination and want to come again.
A third reason why I decided to volunteer at Vizcaya is that this estate gives the public many opportunities to go volunteer. The estate is about 43 acres. Landscapers need help to maintain certain areas of the gardens since it is such a large area.
One last reason why I decided to volunteer at Vizcaya is that I have always enjoyed volunteering. Since age 12, I have always been involved with different kinds of volunteering groups or projects. I am passionate about helping my community. I also love working with gardens and respect the environment.
This experience made me feel many different ways. Emotionally, pulling weeds at Vizcaya during a beautiful sunny morning, made me feel so happy and at peace. I enjoyed being surrounded by nature. I enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun and feeling the texture of the plants. I was having a stressful week the week of this volunteer event. Going to Vizcaya and pulling weeds helped me de-stress and spend some time in silence with my thoughts. Intellectually, I learned that these volunteer events are available to the public. I also learned a new skill when it comes to gardening.
Where and What
On April 9, 2022, I met up with my fellow classmate Samantha at FIU at 8:00 AM. We then carpooled to Vizcaya. At 9:00 AM we arrived at the entrance of Vizcaya and met up with the rest of the volunteers. Our leader was one of the main landscapers of Vizcaya. He gave us a sheet where we signed in to receive our volunteer credit. The landscaper then went ahead and introduced himself and gave us a brief explanation of Vizcaya. He then told us briefly that we would be working in the garden portion of the estate. Then, he walked us over to the portion of the garden where we would work in.
Once we got to the area, he explained to us that our task was to pull all the weeds in the area. The area had some really cool designs in which plants were used to create these designs. However, there were a lot of overgrown weeds that were ruining the effect of the design. Our leader then showed us how the weeds looked. This helped us identify which were the proper weeds we were going to be pulling out and avoid ruining the plants.
At around 9:40 we started to work. Everyone got a trash bag or bucket to collect weeds, gloves, and small garden shovels. All the volunteers spread out through the area and started to pull weeds. Personally, I scanned section by section very carefully. I was surprised to see so many hidden weeds. After taking my time with my portions, I went over the portions that other volunteers had completed. To my surprise, I found even more weeds. I did take frequent breaks since it was a sunny and hot morning. Our leader would check up on us every hour to make sure that we were okay and completing our tasks.
Around 12pm, all the volunteers met up with the landscaper. We all made a pile of garbage bags full of weeds and placed them on his golf cart. We also collected the buckets and small garden shovels so they can be reused. We also gave the landscaper the packs of remaining gloves and trashbags so they could also be reused. We later scanned the area for any remaining trash. We ended the day by thanking the landscaper for giving us the opportunity to come in and help him. He also gave us thanks for helping him and taking a load off his back.
Volunteering at Vizcaya was such a fun experience. It gave me the opportunity to visit one of my favorite sites in Miami and help keep it pristine. I enjoyed bonding with my classmate and other volunteers. This volunteering experience also helped me emotionally by allowing me to de-stress by being surrounded by nature and using my hands. I recommend this volunteering experience to anyone. I will definitely come back to Vizcaya to not only enjoy the beautiful gardens and art but also give back to the community that hosts this destination.