Once again I have the Peace Corps to thank for making me think differently about the world, but this time it’s a part of the world that’s right next door to me. I just got home from a great day in my beautiful backyard, the Everglades, thanks to the protection of the National Park Service.
This trip was special because children without homes from the Chapman Partnership and the kids from the The SEED School of Miami & Touching Miami with Love: West Homestead Site experienced the beauty of the Everglades and the warmth of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida. It’s an annual event that definitely takes a village – of volunteers that is – to keep track of 80+ kids as they search for alligators, hike above the water on boardwalk, look out for great blue herons, and spot turtles in Florida’s beloved River of Grass.
It was their first ever trip to the Everglades and they loved it. By the end of the day they took the oath to become Junior Rangers, promising to protect the earth, the animals, and the water.
I have my parents to thank for making sure I took the Junior Ranger oath and learned to love the beauty of the natural world wherever we find it. They packed us up for vacations to every National Park we could get to. We visited state parks. We had a cabin in the mountains. We backpacked in the Rockies. We fished in the Brazos River. We camped all over the American west and in Mexico. I’m a city dweller now, but that doesn’t keep me from seeking out the sand, the sea, the mountains, the lakes, the hills, and open space everywhere for solace, beauty, and joy. I know from these experiences that the diversity of this world is vast and that it needs protection. The earth, its natural places, and its Everglades are for all of us to cherish and to enjoy.
But, maybe they aren’t.
It was only as I was driving home that I began to realize that a trip to the Everglades is something that struggling inner city families cannot even begin to afford. First, it’s hard to get to. You need a car, money for gas and a credit card to pay MDX’s high tolls. Second, even when you get there, it costs a lot. The fee for a car to enter the park is $25.00. Even I thought that was a lot, and I am not struggling to make ends meet nor homeless.
I know kids from Miami Gardens who have never been to the beach, a mere 20 minutes away. The costs of getting to the Everglades must make it seem a world away.
It gives me some peace to know that a few more kids will visit the Everglades in 2018 on the next Peace Corps trip.