St. Leo Students SERVE Florida Keys for Spring Break

These days, a college degree does not offer the same guarantee of a job after graduation it once did. Philanthropy among college students is on the rise nationwide with increasing competition among students to fill academic their resumes before beginning to search for a job.

Though the Florida Keys offer a great getaway for Spring Breakers from around the country, a group of students from Saint Leo University near Tampa recently spent their weeklong study break volunteering their time on Big Pine Key.

Christine Barabas, along with six fellow students and two faculty advisors, worked with rangers at the park to pick up litter on both the land and in the water.
Monay Markey of the Sand and Sea Nature Center at Bahia Honda said the students also used kayaks to collect garbage and clean mangroves around the park.

Joy Tatgenhorst of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Coastal Cleanup Program gladly accommodated the students’ request to work during their visit.

“They contacted me a few weeks before their arrival and asked to do some community service,” Tatgenhorst explained. “We worked all afternoon cleaning up lobster pots and trap rope until we were exhausted. The area we cleaned was decimated from continuous hits the past few years by hurricanes and an exceptional amount of sea grass build up that had killed the black mangroves. When we left the area, there was approximately eight cubic yards of debris at the road for pickup.”

Barabas enjoyed the natural wonder of the Keys so much last year on her initial SERVE trip through her school that she volunteered to organize this year’s excursion. Last year, the group camped on Big Munson Island with the Boy Scouts program. The 2009 SERVE, (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences) Florida Keys trip afforded hard-working students the opportunity to enjoy a tropical escape while also making a contribution to the community.
Saint Leo’s SERVE program also sent student missions to New Orleans to build homes with Habitat for Humanity following Hurricane Katrina; to Atlanta to work with less fortunate families through Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Atlanta; as well as South Orange, New Jersey, Alaska and Honduras. Because students opting out of traditional Spring Break debauchery volunteer their time with the SERVE program, they are able to travel across the country and world for a reasonable price.

Pigeon Key Executive Director Kelly McKinnon said although he has had several groups contact him regarding similar alternative spring break programs, logistics have prevented any such activities on Pigeon Key in Marathon.

Amber Ernst-Leonard of Florida Keys Community College said they also do not currently have any programs in place. FKCC did, however, recently launch a marketing campaign for Spring Breakers to return to Key West during the summer to earn college credit. Four six-week summer courses include “Aquatic Exploration” during which diving, seamanship, marine biology and oceanography will be taught; a “Key West Cultural Safari” that will teach oral and community history and digital photography with field trips through the area; a “Computer Boot Camp” and “College Jump Start” with various general education and remedial courses.

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