The Coastal Star

County Pocket resident Danielle McKeon and her 6-year-old son, Reef, have collected vast amounts of rope and other debris during their daily beach walks. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Danielle McKeon has a close connection to the ocean, which is one of the reasons she cares so much about keeping the shoreline clean. She lives one block from the beach in the County Pocket, and is a member of the renowned Heavyside family — Nomad Surf Shop owner Ronnie Heavyside is her significant other and father to her son, Reef.

McKeon, a freelance teleprompter operator, begins most days with a walk along the beach, but in doing so she brings along a bag and makes it her mission to collect all manner of trash that has washed up in the previous 24 hours.

Some of what she collects is recycled, some thrown away, and some is used to make pieces of art.

She admits to “great anguish” when she reflects on how dirty our oceans have become.

“If you just pick up trash on the beach once, it may not affect you,” said McKeon, 39. “But if you go back to the same beach, every day or every week, you realize more and more trash keeps washing up. You can’t stop it. It’s overwhelming and it can make you feel helpless.

“A statistic says that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” she says. “There are pictures of fish, birds and sea turtles with plastic in their stomachs, wildlife entangled in netting, and just recently a dead sperm whale had an insane amount of plastic in its stomach.

“It is our fault that animals and the environment are suffering. And it’s not just them. I like to eat seafood and sushi,” she said. “So does my son. We don’t want to eat plastic. It’s important to me that Reef has a clean beach, a healthy ocean to play in and eat from.

“We must start making better, more sustainable choices and enforce protection of the ocean, coral reefs and marine life.

“As consumers we have to stop relying on single-use plastics and be mindful of the waste we are creating and ultimately where it ends up.”

It would be unrealistic to believe she alone could remove every piece of plastic, Styrofoam or other litter from the ocean or beach, she says. But “instead of giving up and thinking this problem is far larger than me, I can’t make an impact, what I can do is continue to post my beach cleanup findings on social media to raise awareness. I love when people tell me they are now picking up trash when they go to the beach after seeing my posts. It makes me feel good.”

McKeon also has reduced the amount of waste her family creates by eliminating single-use items such as plastic straws, using reusable bags instead of plastic bags and recycling as many items as possible.

“I’m not perfect and I don’t get it right 100 percent of the time, but I am working towards the greater good,” she said.

Brian Biggane

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?

A: I was born and raised in Flint, Mich. I’m proud of where I’m from but I wanted more than what Flint could offer me. I came to Florida in 1997, when I was just 17, so I feel like I have done most of my growing up here. I graduated from the multimedia, film and television program at Palm Beach State College back when it was still Palm Beach Community College.

Flint taught me to dream. It made me resilient, thankful, honest and nonjudgmental. In South Florida variety really is the spice of life. I’ve been introduced to new cultures, music, food and the ocean. I’m able to enjoy the outdoors nearly 365 days a year. That alone has given me a deeper connection to nature and a passion for helping the environment.

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?

A: There’s a quote I learned from my political science professor: “If you find a job you love you will never work a day in your life.” I am not sure where it originated but I can tell you, it’s one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard.

I think job and career are essentially totally different. A job is something you have to do. A career is something you want to do. Sometimes we have to work several jobs to get to our career and that’s OK.

I wore many hats before I became the teleprompter diva that I am today. I was a production coordinator, producer, P.A., script supervisor, camera operator, director’s assistant, grip and the list goes on. I tell young people who are starting out in the film/ television business to try every job because you never know which one you will like the best or which one could one day become your career.

There are so many new career options within technology, green energy, social media and even the cannabis industry. They are all just one click away on the internet, but easier access to contact these companies and instant connection means more competition. Know who you are. Know what you want. Know what your goals are. Know how to market yourself. Believe in yourself and don’t let misfortunes define you.

Q: How did you choose to make your home in the Pocket?

A: Love brought me to the Surf Pocket. But the Heavysides have been here since the ’60s. Ronnie grew up in this neighborhood. Now we are raising our son here. Reef, 6, can be found running around the surf shop sometimes just like his father did when he was little. Reef has said he never wants to leave this neighborhood, so I guess we will be here for a while.

Q: What is your favorite part about living on the island?

A: The beach. It’s the perfect place to relax, get inspired or watch the sunrise. I am so blessed to live just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. Being so close affords me the time and ability to do multiple beach cleanups throughout the week.

Q: What books are you reading now?

A: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, by Al Gore, and Simple Acts to Save Our Planet, 500 Ways to Make a Difference, by Michelle Neff.

Q: What music do you listen to when you want inspiration? When you want to relax?

A: My musical interests are all over the place. When I am running through Ocean Ridge I usually need motivation and inspiration so I listen to dancehall. It’s a genre within reggae. When I’m looking for creative inspiration I like to put my Pandora on shuffle, usually to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Beres Hammond, Phish, CCR, Vulfpeck, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, Janis Joplin and Grateful Dead.  

Relaxing by the pool or on the beach it’s definitely reggae playing from my speaker. When I am really relaxing, doing yoga or meditating, I listen to Native American flute. It helps calm my mind.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?

A: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs. It’s pretty straightforward. I also have to mention the Serenity Prayer because it has given me peace and guidance at different times throughout my life.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?

A: When I was a kid I looked up to my mom. She was a single mother who worked her way up from selling doughnuts to eventually retiring as the foreman for the city of Flint’s Water Service Center. [She retired long before the ongoing Flint water crisis.] She was the life of the party and had a great group of friends. She was beautiful … she still is and I wanted to be just like her.

My mom gave me the strength to stand on my own two feet. “Never ask a man to do something you can do for yourself,” she would say as she was fixing the toilet or something else around the house. There were times when we were poor, but my mom never let us feel like we were. I knew I was loved and I have always known love is what matters because of her.   

My son inspires most of my life decisions now.

Q: If your life were made into a movie, who would play you?

A: It would have to be someone who is stunningly beautiful, charming, charismatic and funny. Drew Barrymore? Charlize Theron? Just kidding. I think I’m more like Kate McKinnon.

Q: Is there something about you that people don’t know?

A: A few random things about myself: I am scared of birds, I have been since I was a child. I hate beets and cottage cheese.

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