Growing up in Stuart, Florida, naturally led me to be immersed in the local water issues impacting my community. Water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River has fluctuated over the years, often for the worse, prompting me to become an environmental activist and a leading member of a nonprofit organization called River Kidz at the young age of 8. I’ve observed toxic blue-green algae blooms coating the surface of the St. Lucie River and have stayed up to date on new bills passed that affect the Greater Everglades ecosystem. With other River Kidz, I’ve traveled to Washington, D.C., to bring awareness to the crisis plaguing these waterways on Florida’s east coast, as well as organized local protests calling for the protection of manatees suffering from the impacts of harmful algal blooms.

A 2022 graduate of The Pine School, and now an incoming sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, I’ve been able to continue my efforts fighting for clean water as the summer intern for Friends of the Everglades, working alongside the most dedicated, hardworking, and admirable team of staff. Returning home from college to intern for Friends has helped me comprehend Florida’s environmental issues on a wider scope and realize how incredibly important advocacy can be.

Working with Friends has also expanded my knowledge on larger issues, such as climate change. This summer, temperatures all over the world have reached record-breaking numbers. In Florida, extremely warm water is causing coral bleaching in the Florida Keys. There’s no time to ignore global warming, as it continues to lead to catastrophic effects. Being an environmental advocate during this age can feel quite frustrating because it may seem there’s little hope left to make a real impact. However, I have faith that my generation is very capable of creating positive change. I’ve noticed this through my leadership of River Kidz and seeing how our passionate concern for Florida’s waterways made such a noticeable difference in our community. Additionally, attending UC Berkeley has shown me that I am among many other students from around the country who are interested in environmental causes, studying topics such as sustainability, development, or environmental business. As my generation slowly enters the workforce, I feel confident that more positive changes will occur in the way the world operates. 

My confidence in environmental advocacy has also grown stronger while learning the intricate work of Friends of the Everglades. The organization’s lasting dedication to protecting Florida’s environment has truly inspired me in many ways. Aside from my assignments, being present in the office and interacting with every staff member has proved to me how motivated they are to make change. The team of seven employees works together very closely and stands true to their mission and goals. Working with the Friends of the Everglades’ staff has been an amazing journey and given me insight into the daily operations of a nonprofit. Being part of the communications team has also taught me how social media is an essential tool for spreading news and information.

An especially meaningful portion of my work this summer allowed me to learn more about Friends of the Everglades founder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, by reading through old documents like her handwritten letters to supporters and newspaper articles highlighting her achievements. Marjory leaves a strong legacy to follow as she is among the most influential environmental advocates in Florida history. Her remarkable passion and perseverance is reflected in Friends’ efforts today, and getting to know more about her character has done nothing but influenced me as an environmentalist.

During my internship, I was enlightened by every staff member and learned something new every day, whether about a new bill being passed by the Florida Legislature or a unique fact about the Everglades. This experience makes me feel extremely grateful, and I’m looking forward to returning to Berkeley with a new depth of knowledge in the environmental and marketing fields. As I continue to pursue my studies of conservation and policy, I know without a doubt that Friends has given me the tools to excel in these subjects. Organizations like Friends of the Everglades are vital for positive environmental change in the future of Florida. Although my internship is coming to an end, I will never stop advocating for clean, healthy waterways in Florida and the protection of the Everglades. 

Summer 2023 Intern,

Kiele Mader