November 19, 2012

Thankful for Volunteers

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector,  
Urban Sustainability Agent  

As I work on my annual report and reflect on the many accomplishments over the year, I am thankful for the volunteers in the Sustainable Floridian program. Sustainable Floridians is a pioneer program from the University of Florida that seeks to build sustainability awareness. Since its pilot launch in 2011, the program has been well received by our citizens, and in two years, we’ve trained 66 participants. Our volunteers have donated more than 1,800 hours to extending the reach of the Extension Service in our county. As Program Coordinator, I am indebted to the pioneer participants who remain committed to Extension and its mission.

Thanksgiving is a time to express thanks and gratitude and our volunteers have become part of our family here at Extension. One of our newest volunteers, Margot Hogan Glenos, reflected on her recent experiences with Sustainable Floridians and it illustrates what the University of Florida and its instructors hoped to achieve with the development of this program. I am thankful to Margot for sharing her reflections with us and I hope you enjoy reading her perspective.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Having retired from a long teaching career, I decided to heed my own advice given to my students- follow your heart and do what makes you happy. As a teacher, I was constantly involved in community projects that involved some type of environmental awareness or conservation. There was great excitement when the students planted trees or gardens on the school campus. They became downright vigilantes when people dropped litter around on “their playground”. It was rewarding to see the students look at the environment through new eyes and know that a seed of conservation and stewardship had been planted in their minds.

When I moved to Florida last April, I wanted to be a part of my new community and pondered where to start. I came across the Sustainable Floridians Program that is offered through the Pinellas County Extension Service and the University of Florida. The course description looked perfect for my needs–sustainable practices tailored to my new home.

The seven week course began with an awareness of the ecological problems facing all of us on a local and global scale. It was hard to visualize scarcity and carbon footprints while gazing out at the beauty of the Brooker Creek Preserve. I watched butterflies float lazily past the panoramic windows as Ramona or Mary presented distressing facts. Squirrels happily foraged for food among the palmettos and oak trees while my classmates and I discussed sustainability.

It was on a trip home that opened my eyes to the development in Pinellas County. Highway 19 stretched on for miles with one town blending into another. It seemed that there were endless shopping centers between Tarpon Springs and Seminole. The traffic was steady and fairly heavy. I realized at that moment how truly important sustainability is to everyone around me. Comprehension dawned in my mind of what a million people living and working together in a space called Pinellas County really looked like. I was momentarily intimidated by the immensity of it all.

The classes began to calm my concerns about sustainability in the world (and Pinellas County). We learned about solutions found in other communities. When our classes took us on an exploration of water and electricity conservation, I really took it personally. It was at this point that I accepted the challenge of reducing my power and water consumption.

I purchased an umbrella clothesline and stopped using the dryer. There is something strangely meditative about hanging laundry on a line in the sunshine. I can hear all sorts of birds calling to each other. The wind chimes around the neighborhood create a unique orchestra of tube melodies in the gentle breezes. My dogs enjoy sitting in the sunshine, watching me fuss with each article of clothing.

Besides using a solar clothes dryer, I have been setting up a rain barrel to help save water for my plants. This is another direct benefit from the Sustainable Floridians. They bring in resource people to teach us how to do things such as building rain barrels. All I need now is some rain to fill up the barrel.

Another area of sustainability that piqued my interest in this course was saving on driving. I have been keenly aware of my ‘car-bon’ tire track for a number of years now. When I was commuting 75 miles every day, I needed a car that would get optimum mileage. After much research, I chose a Prius. It not only gets about 50 miles to a gallon of gas but has nearly zero emissions. Since retiring, I do not drive as much as before. However, the Sustainable Floridians course made me start thinking about my driving habits. Just because I have a low mpg car does not mean that I do not have to be conservative. I plan trips based on needs rather than impulse. If I need to go to the store, I combine it with something else that needs to be done. I am becoming vividly conscious of my driving habits and gas consumption.

Part of the requirement for the Sustainable Floridian course is volunteerism. I am looking forward to getting involved in community events around Pinellas County. It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with others who have expertise and experience in the many areas for which I am interested in volunteering.

These are a few of the benefits I gained from Sustainable Floridians. However, the greatest benefit was in getting to know others with a passion for living sustainably. Our class was comprised of people from all ages, backgrounds, interests yet we found common ground in this course. Ideas were exchanged, support and encouragement was offered, and new friendships developed. Knowing that there are other people in the community who feel the same about preserving our world and living sustainably is a huge boost to my own efforts.

I am grateful to the Pinellas County Extension for providing such a valuable course to the public. It was just what I needed to help guide me along a more sustainable path.

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