Buck-I-SERV is The Ohio State University’s alternative break program, providing students across the campus opportunities to engage in weeklong community service and civic engagement programs around the United States and even abroad. I was selected to participate in a Buck-I-SERV program with nine other students, where we traveled to Pinellas County Florida to work with University of Florida’s IFAS Extension Sea Grant program. UF | IFAS’s mission is to provide research based knowledge and educational opportunities to enable people, and in particular we worked with this in the Pinellas County area.
Some of the main issues facing the Pinellas County area are related to marine debris, income inequality, and access to education. Libby Carnahan coordinated and provided educational information to participating students as we served at Weedon Island cleaning marine debris from Mangrove Islands and protecting wildlife. Mangroves are an essential piece of the ecosystem in this area and are threatened by pollution. On our second day we served at Fort Desoto, an area that has been losing resources and required a tremendous amount of assistance to revitalize the historical area. Moving away from the environmental efforts, we were also able to construct and execute lesson plans for the Lealman Asian and Family Neighbor Center. The students were able to engage and learn from us more about the ecosystem and habitats that surround them in the Pinellas County area. On our last full day in Florida, a downpour prevented us from completing our original plans of another environmental clean-up and therefore led us to serve time at a local food bank in the Lealman area and also provide labor for one of the Tampa Bay area’s Habitat for Humanity Restore Centers.
The opportunity to engage with students from different backgrounds and hear about their understanding of the environmental and social issues faced in Pinellas County was extremely valuable, along with the valuable accounts from the people we were working with in the area. While it was only a week long, the impacts we were working to make were extremely gratifying in a sense that we could see a direct change especially when cleaning areas from debris. I would encourage any student that is interested in community service to take this opportunity. The opportunities and experiences I have gained from Buck-I-SERV has empowered me and others to bring what we learned back to the Columbus community and have a meaningful impact through our organizations on and off campus.