In the mid 1990’s, Miami-Dade educators Connie Washburn and Marta Whitehouse set a goal to get students more interested in their surrounding natural environment, most especially the Florida Everglades. One particular year, 1994, the teachers had a special group of highly motivated students. They became interested in a project to build a theme type park practically in the Everglades, or at least close enough to do severe damage. The students made posters, raised hundreds of Global Relief Walk-A-Thon dollars, and were featured in newspapers–Young Friends of the Everglades was born.
In the years to come, Young Friends took day trips to the Everglades, did science projects, planted over 60 trees at Howard Drive Elementary School, and collected ‘Pennies for Panthers’. They attended rallies and town hall meetings, and visited Legislators in Washington D.C. They campaigned and saved a hundred-year-old Royal Poinciana tree from being cut down by a developer. They starred in a Nick News television segment about the Everglades, spoke at the C-111 Ground Breaking Ceremony-#4, and produced a play entitled, Kermit Saves the Everglades. They developed slogans like K.E.E.P. (Kids Establish Everglades Protection), and put this logo on T-shirts and cloth bags. They wrote articles and poems for our newsletter, Everglades Echo.
The Sierra Club honored Young Friends year after year with the Green Award for children.A five-minute video along with a Public Service Announcement (PSA) has been shown to over 60,000 Miami Dade County students over the past ten years. Yes, Connie and Marta’s initial goal was to ‘plant seeds of knowledge’ in their students and what happened far surpassed anyone’s expectations.
It was their dream to see that all fourth graders could have the opportunity to learn about the Everglades, and that dream still persists with Young Friends educational outreach program. Now, Young Friends is looking to collect the memories of its earliest members, to see how they’ve grown and how their time with Young Friends impacted their environmental awareness.