By Janis Fontaine
Learning the value and joy of public service is an important component of a student’s education at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic School in Delray Beach.
Maura Evans, 14, of Ocean Ridge, and Katie Rose Brisson, 13, of Boynton Beach, chose to help Sea Turtle Adventures, a nonprofit tasked with protecting turtle nests along a 3-mile stretch of beach reaching from Gulf Stream to Ocean Ridge, as their service project.
Students at St. Vincent Ferrer are separated into “houses,” and each house chooses a service project, Maura explained. Their house, Équité, chose to work with STA.
If you’ve strolled that beach between May and October, you’ve seen the vibrant orange stakes and the netting that protect the sea turtle nests. Maura and Katie Rose joined forces with about 20 other students to paint hundreds of stakes so they could be reused.
It seemed fitting their house should champion sea turtles because “équité” means justice, Katie Rose said. “Sea turtles are harmless creatures, so we want to protect them.”
Painting hundreds of 2-foot wooden stakes was hot, sweaty work, complicated by social distancing and other COVID requirements, but it taught the kids that public service is sometimes difficult.
It’s a lesson STA’s founder learned firsthand.
Delray Beach native Jacquelyn Kingston launched the nonprofit Sea Turtle Adventures in 2016, but she and her mother, Joan Lorne of Delray Beach, have been permitted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to monitor nests along a 3-mile stretch of beach in southern Palm Beach County for almost 20 years.
Now a marine biologist, Kingston started her association with sea turtles at about the same age as the kids at St. Vincent Ferrer — as a 12-year-old volunteer at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach (then called the MarineLife Center of Juno Beach).
STA has a three-pronged mission: “to conserve local populations of sea turtles, educate the public about the marine environment, and provide nature-based programs and life-skills training to adults with disabilities.”
After working with several adults with special needs, Kingston knew conservation awareness could enrich the lives of these adults and promote sea turtle conservation and education. STA added the iCARE WAVE program (Work And Volunteer Experience), which offers adults with special needs the opportunity to work for STA in partnership with approved vocational rehabilitation work programs.
Katie Rose and Maura’s Équité house volunteered with the WAVE program, where they learned about the joy of service.
Last year, the group put native plants on the beach to improve the turtle habitats, which had taken a beating during hurricane season. “It’s super-fun to do stuff with friends, but I like helping people, too,” Maura said.
“I really liked it,” Katie Rose said of her beach day interacting with the adults. She is worried the coronavirus will prevent the event from taking place this year.
And there’s one more factor at play here, Maura explained. The St. Vincent Ferrer house with the most points at the end of the school year wins a trophy (and bragging rights).
Of course, every house wants to win, but Maura says that some people put too much emphasis on winning. “I feel like it’s more important to have fun.”
Whatever happens, Katie Rose said, “I’m proud of our house.”