Kids Ecology Corps: Helping Youth Connect with Nature

KEC wine tastingNo plans this Thursday? Head over to Spazio in Fort Lauderdale on A1A for a wine tasting that benefits Kids Ecology Corps (KEC), a wonderful Fort Lauderdale-based organization whose mission is to inspire young people to make environmental action a part of their everyday lives and in the lives of those around them. Reserve your space for the event by emailing or by purchasing tickets online.

I came across KEC about a year ago and quickly became an enthusiastic volunteer, helping to organize and facilitate educational programs and community action activities, such as beach clean-ups and park restoration projects. I’ve seen firsthand the ways in which KEC is providing unique, hands-on environmental programming for kids and helping them connect with the natural world around them.

I also recently spoke with KEC CEO, Joan Starr, to learn more about the organization’s accomplishments and what keeps her excited about her work. Check out the recap of our conservation, below.

How did KEC get started?

KEC was founded in 1998 to create an awareness in children about the not yet adequately acknowledged environmental issues they were facing. Environmental education was typically not included in public school curriculum at that time. KEC founders Daisy Miller and Leonard Soloman recognized a need to create a curriculum to educate kids about the environment. They created a free, public program and toured the South offering it to local schools. They saw educators, parents and kids enthusiastically embrace the environmental information and eagerly want to take action to better their world, and as a result, Kids Ecology Corps was born.

Daisy and Leonard were environmental mavericks of their day. As a result of their work, and that of other like-minded individuals, 16 years later environmental information in schools is now more readily available, as are opportunities to be “green”.  Their legacy lives on through the good work of Kids Ecology Corps.

What are some KECs recent accomplishments?

To date, Kids Ecology Corps has educated over 100,000 kids at no cost to public schools throughout Southeast Florida. Up until recently, KEC worked directly in schools helping to educate both students and teachers about environmental issues. Our programming has evolved as we continue to meet the needs of our time.  We are now located in Snyder Park and are developing programs for the Fall focused on creating a natural, learning laboratory where youth can learn about nature and experience it firsthand.

Kids experience a day of learning about butterflies and their habitats at Snyder Park’s butterfly garden, thanks to KEC programming
Kids experience a day of learning about butterflies and their habitats at Snyder Park’s butterfly garden, thanks to KEC programming

We recently launched the creation of a Butterfly Garden in the Park, and we have had a several highly successful programs that incorporate the garden, including a Butterflies, Moths and their habitats program. This is a series of hands-on workshops during which over 300 parents and children worked together as they learned about the anatomy of butterflies and moths, their habitat, the plants they love to eat, and how they reproduce.

We additionally facilitate numerous eco-action and community service projects for students and adults alike. All of these projects contain an educational element, such as a nature walk or a discussion about the importance of restoration and conservation.

What will the proceeds from the wine tasting in June help benefit?

We have some exciting programs planned for 2014, many of which we have initial funding for from individual donations and partners like Walmart, Citrix, The City of Fort Lauderdale, and Flamingo Road Nursery to name a few. However, we need additional support to scale up and sustain the success of these programs. One program we’re really excited about is the Watershed to the Reef program, which will provide South Florida teachers with state of the art digital, multimedia and traditional curriculum materials and program activities to better educate their students and provide them with an understanding of the interrelationship between our Florida Watershed and our fragile South Florida coral reefs. Donations collected from the wine tasting will help fund our ability to offer this program, free of charge, to teachers throughout Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Another project being developed this year is a Home Schooling Field Trip Enrichment Program. Through speaking with homeschooling groups, we’ve become aware of the fact that there is a lack of environmental and science related field trip opportunities for home-schooled children. By providing programs that encourage children and their parents to work on a project together and learn together, we have seen firsthand that it reinforces a family bond.  It is a concept we embrace and have built into the all our 2014 Fall Programs. We are maintaining a similar format for the homeschooling program and are designing a mid-week field trip destination and educational center using the 92-acre Snyder Park and the Citrix-sponsored Urban Forest at Snyder Park as a Learning Laboratory.  The children will be educated outdoors, they will have hands-on learning experiences, and they will learn about what they can do to have healthy and happy lives and protect the world they live in. For kids in the group who are unable to attend in person, we are considering the use of live-streaming “Go to Meeting” technology to include them in the educational experience. We wish to make this an ongoing, nominal cost program for home-schooled children and other community groups and we are in need of ongoing financial support from individual and community sponsors to make this possible.

CEO, Joan Starr, was appointed to the KEC Board of Directors in 2000 and has been there ever since. She accepted the position of CEO in 2012.
CEO, Joan Starr, was appointed to the KEC Board of Directors in 2000 and has been there ever since. She accepted the position of CEO in 2012.

What keeps you excited about your work?

I get excited when I see kids become enthusiastic about discovering nature and being actively involved in making a difference – whether it’s through volunteering to plant a tree, helping clear a field of invasive plants, cleaning up a beach, or planting Milk Weed to help keep up the fading Monarch Butterfly population. To see and experience nature in depth – that is, to gain knowledge of things that might otherwise be overlooked and to be better able to understand and respect the natural order of life – is a wonderful thing. Being able to inspire and encourage kids to make a difference, keeps me excited about the great work we are doing.

What is the one thing you’d like South Florida residents to know about KEC and the work you do to help kids connect with nature?

Right now, because of our partnership with the City of Fort Lauderdale and the ability for our offices to be situated in Snyder Park, we have an opportunity to develop the Park as a Learning Laboratory, offering unique programs such as: recycling by making great art from materials we generally throw away; creating an organic edible garden to learn about how and why to grow organic food; creating a rain garden to learn about water conservation; and developing nutritional and physical fitness classes to help youth learn how to be healthy and take responsibility for the quality of their lives. Through these educational, hands-on, interactive experiences, kids and their families have an opportunity to learn and grow together as they learn about nature and how to care for the environment and the world they live.

So I’d like to encourage residents to check out our website and consider making a donation to support our programming, or to join one of our workshops or community events to learn about and experience nature firsthand.

To learn more about KEC, check out their website, and we hope to see you on Thursday at Spazio!

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