Teens Promote Environmental Awareness Through 4-H Club

The Glades 4-H Club members from left to right: Emma Gibilterra, Blake Loiacono, Connor Tomchin, Antonio Guariniello, and Kayla Renert. {photos courtesy Susan Thomchin}

By Jill Fox

The 4-H Club has always been known for building life skills, such as leadership and resiliency. One local organization is using their abilities to help save the environment, starting with the animal populations at a Broward County park.

 The Glades 4-H Club of Broward County partnered with
 Tradewinds Park to complete their Community Pride Project, a service learning program where youth develop skills and knowledge in community leadership.

The club received a grant from Florida 4-H to fund their project, which aimed to help fish populations by making and installing artificial fish attractors and refurbishing the damaged shoreline.

Sophomore club member Antonio Guariniello said the project had a positive effect on both the members involved and the community. It taught everyone involved that it was both easy and beneficial to help the environment.

“Being able to better the ecosystem and protect many baby fish in the lake brought a smile to everybody’s face,” said Guariniello.

This isn’t the first time the group of entrepreneurs has helped the environment. Last year, the same club received an $800 grant to install a structure similar to a birdhouse colony to help with the declining Purple Martin population, which relies on man-made birdhouses for survival.

4-H club members at Tradewinds Park.

mr pool

The club met at the beginning of the school year and looked inside the community to decide what kind of project they wanted to develop. They chose to continue working with Tradewinds Park, as they had the previous year.

“The club was recognized last year for one of the top projects in the state, so their goal was to try to be competitive again,” said Susan Tomchin, who has been leading this group for the past six years. Her son, Connor is one of the six club members who have been friends since their days at Westchester Elementary in Coral Springs. The students have since separated into different high schools, but their friendship remains intact through the organization.

Initially, Tomchin led her daughter’s Girl Scout troop for twelve years, but she wanted to try to find something that involved both boys and girls, so she switched over to 4-H. Her daughter Emily, who now attends the University of Michigan, said both of her children liked nature and the environment, so a 4-H Club was a natural fit since it covers many different areas, from computers to the environment, community service and leadership.

“Every year, we’re able to focus on something different. There’s a lot of flexibility,” she said.

Members of the club attend Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and Pine Crest in Fort Lauderdale. They meet at the leader’s Coral Springs home and attend regional meetings and events as well.

When the group decided on their Community Pride Project, they met with Tradewinds Park Regional Park Manager, Tim Waln to come up with a plan to help the environment and the fish population. After their project was selected to receive funding through Florida 4-H, the team secured permits, purchased the necessary materials with their $200 grant, and met with the South Florida Water Management District to fulfill the project’s educational component.

The group purchased materials such as PVC pipe, concrete, and buckets, and still had funds left over to assist with some Hurricane Irma damage. They donated stones to help stabilize the bank and provide a habitat for small fish to hide.

After spending an entire year on the project, the club hopes to once again receive recognition as one of the top five Community Pride Projects in the state at an awards assembly in mid-June at the University of Florida.

The teens felt the project helped them develop skills like leadership, teamwork, work ethic, and awareness. It provided a way for them to learn how to fix a problem that had been going on for some time by protecting fish that were in danger and needed shelter for protection.

Said Tomchin, “It’s a really great project to get the kids thinking, connect them to the community, and work on something that they really care about. They’re doing community service and don’t even feel like it’s work.”

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