Kids’ club does good works
By B.C. Manion
When Jordan Mark started Friends for Florida, he rounded up some kids in his Deer Lake neighborhood to do some good deeds for nature.
At the time, he just thought it’d be a neat thing to do.
The Steinbrenner High student said he didn’t think the group would still be around five years later, or that it would have become involved in so many environmental efforts.
The group has three basic elements.
First, the students select an environmental cause each year and choose a nonprofit organization to help.
Then, they get their hands dirty. They have collected trash from roadsides and rivers during cleanups, waded through the water to count scallops, planted trees and sea oats and helped to build oyster bars and oyster domes.
And, by the way, they also have fun: Going on night hikes, kayaking, fishing and doing other stuff in the great outdoors.
Since beginning in June 2007, the group has raised money for groups such as Save Our Seabirds, Big Cat Rescue, Tampa Bay Watch, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The kids have raised money various ways, including asking for donations at Walmart and recycling aluminum cans.
Their next fundraiser is April 21, a garage sale in Wilderness Lake Preserve during the subdivision’s communitywide sale.
Friends for Florida, which now has 13 members, meets monthly at the home of Todd and Jodi Mark in Lutz.
Its members are teenagers and younger children from Lutz and Land O’ Lakes. They attend Steinbrenner and Land O’ Lakes high schools, Pine View and Rushe middle schools, and Lake Myrtle and Connerton elementary schools.
“Over the summer, they come up with different environmental topics that interest them,” said Jodi Mark, a teacher at Rushe Middle. “The first year they chose seabirds. This year, it was beaches.”
After they choose their topic, they research area nonprofits that support that cause. This year, they chose Friends of the Island Park.
Besides collecting items for the upcoming garage sale, club members also will sell terra cotta pots and birdhouses they made using supplies donated by Lowe’s.
Jordan Mark said the group tries to choose causes that are fun and worthwhile.
“I really enjoyed building oyster domes with Tampa Bay Watch. We had to fill molds with concrete. Once they dry, they drop them in the water,” he said. “They attract oysters.”
He also had a good time counting scallops during The Great Bay Scallop Search.
Besides helping his community, being involved helps him, too, because he gets community service hours, Jordan Mark said.
Fifteen-year-old Nick Mitchell, who attends Land O’ Lakes High, said when he joined, it was mostly about having a good time with friends.
“We were all having fun being out in nature. The more we did it, the more we got involved with other groups and we started helping them, raise money for them and help them get new supplies.
“It is worthwhile. It’s a real learning experience – plus it gets you (volunteer) hours for school,” said Mitchell, a club member since its inception.
Emily Cohen, another member since the start, said her work in Friends for Florida makes her feel good.
“At first I did it because Jordan invited me, but then I kind of got into it,” said the 15-year-old, who attends Steinbrenner High.
She especially enjoys seeking donations from patrons at Walmart.
“We have big science boards. We put pictures of all we’ve done and we have pamphlets for the places we’re fundraising for,” she said. People generally are generous, she said.
Fifteen-year-old Alexander Duarte, who attends Land O’ Lakes High, said he’s run across some interesting things during cleanups.
“We actually found a chair in a river. What makes someone think to throw a chair in the river?” said Duarte, whose brother, Avery, also recently joined the club.
Another family has four club members: Josie, Jolie, Jamie, and Jake Linares, who live in Wilderness Lake Preserve. Their family is hosting the garage sale this weekend.
“We wanted to do something where the whole family could participate,” Becky Linares said, explaining why all four children are club members.
Besides helping others, the kids get to have fun, said Todd Mark, Jordan’s dad.
“We went to Picnic Island. For some of the kids, it was their first time fishing. We did a night hike at the Brooker Creek Preserve. We got to look at the scorpions with black lights. They glow under black lights.
“They got to see the lightning bugs – something we used to take for granted.”
Friends for Florida fundraiser
What: Garage sale to benefit Friends of the Island Parks in Honeymoon Island
Where: 7800 Citrus Blossom Drive in Wilderness Lake Preserve in Land O’ Lakes
More information: Jodi Mark, (813) 505-0979
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.