Campus was empty during Fall Break—one might even have seen a tumbleweed or two roll across Mills Lawn. While some students went home for the weekend and others seized the chance for a micro-vacation, a small group of 10 made their way to the city of Homestead to serve in two of southern Florida’s national parks.
The Hot and Sweaty in the Swamp Immersion is a tradition typically intended exclusively for first-year students; however, only a small number of freshmen applied this year, and so the Immersion opened up to the entire school. There ended up being quite a diverse mix, from seniors to freshmen, from environmental studies majors to music majors. The facilitators were Assistant Director of International Programs Mike Rainaldi, Heather Schleiffer ’16, and Jackie Wright ’17. The participants were Charlotte Whiteman ’16, Quinn Bohan ’18, Davin Laskin ’18, Jackson Nguyen ’19, Alex Mariano ’17, Alex Peterson ’17, and Ken Zhao ’17. Fun was had by all.
The group left Rollins in a Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE) bus at around 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9. The drive to south Florida was long, as their hostel was just shy of Miami. Arriving at close to midnight, they quickly went to rest up for their first day of service. Their energy rose with the sun. That Saturday they made their way to Everglades National Park. A welcoming park ranger and his intern handed out bug jackets. Splitting into groups, half trimmed vegetation and the other half cleared the trails. In some of the trails, the brush was so dense overhead that the sun was completely blocked out.
The Everglades were closed during the summer due to the overwhelming amount of mosquitos, and the Rollins kids were getting the park ready for inner-city school field trips in the coming weeks. During lunch, the rangers doled out insight into the park ranger life and National Park fun facts—2016 will be the centennial celebration of the U.S. National Park Service! Although no alligators were seen, a lot of work was accomplished.
On that Sunday the group offered their services to Biscayne National Park, a mostly maritime park dedicated to preserving manatee and sea turtle habitats. They travelled by boat to the very beginning of the Florida Keys, having to wade from the boat to a shore covered in garbage. After several hours of work, the team managed to clean up 88 pounds of trash. Unfortunately, one island they visited was so infested with mosquitos that they had to turn around without even fully getting off the boat. On the way back to the mainland, Peterson’s cap flew off his head into the Atlantic, and the guide was kind enough to stop the boat and turn back for it. With the combined help of all 10 participants and an extended hook, they managed to save one more hat from washing up onto a potential sea turtle nesting ground.
Monday, the last day, was not only the day for the journey back home, but a chance for cultural excursions for the exhausted participants. Their first stop was an airboat ride, where they finally saw their fair share of alligators, adult and baby. Afterward, they made their final pit stop at Miami Beach, where the translucent cerulean water rejuvenated their spirits and washed away the itchiness of their bug bites. The white sand was not quite home, though, so they washed off their sunscreen, strapped on their backpacks, climbed onto the CLCE bus, and headed back to Rollins, each bursting with their own service story to share.
Schleiffer, one of the facilitators, had this to say: “This Immersion, like any service, was messy and unpredictable. Everything came down literally to the last minute, but that made all the difference in the outcome of this experience. We had a small, diverse group of people and each brought something to the table to create one of the most meaningful and memorable (and final) Immersions I had the pleasure of participating in.”