Not many college types prepare for Spring Break by buying winter attire, unless they’re hitting the slopes, but 13 students from Florida International University (FIU) did just that.
That’s what happens when you are heading north from Miami as a participant in FIU’s service-learning program dedicated to “changing the world, one break at a time.”
Since this is the first year that FIU sent student volunteers to Awbury Arboretum, a 55-acre public landscape and historic site in Germantown, none of them knew what to expect.
Hence, the winter coats which conflicted with 70-degree weather reports.
Working instead of partying
Upon their arrival this week, the students questioned how they could contribute to environmental issues in an urban setting like Philadelphia, and they quickly learned.
During their first day, the students toured the land and were told about the Cope Family, English immigrants who built the homes on the site.
They also learned about the greenery while removing invasive plants, vines and dead wood and how bad habits manifest themselves as a driver threw some trash out of his car while driving by the work site.
“I expected more community appreciation and cooperation,” said Christine Pardo, a site leader. “It made me realize how much our work does, and the fact the we have so many people, we manage to get a lot done.”
It didn’t take long on Tuesday for the students to see the fruits of their labor; they worked through a thick shrub in order to reach their peers on the other side.
Even though the students had just begun their week-long break, they were already considering ways to keep improving the Arboretum after they leave. The students said they will recommend the site to coordinators and fellow students interested in a meaningful alternative break right here in Germantown.
One idea was to create a system by which students can get course credit for volunteering over break, which would help the arboretum qualify for educational-program grants. They also hope to create an “FIU Garden” to commemorate the work they have done so future FIU peers can see it.
Beth Miner, Awbury’s manager of outreach and education, loved that they already wanted to put down some roots.
“To know that other people, especially young people, can quickly fall in love with it, and see the need, and want to work above and beyond to help keep the ball rolling that they have started, is amazing,” said Miner.
Not all work and no play
In addition to volunteering, the students have visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Mall, the Gallery and Chinatown. They also grabbed cheesesteaks from Jim’s Steaks and hope to visit University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology or the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Having the students at the arboretum showed Miner the importance of better engaging the community. She also learned the necessity of more helpers, as she is the only full-time staff member.
“I think that people do need to know about things that are going on at Awbury a little more,” she said. “But, I would like to be intentional as we grow and develop so that we don’t lose that character of being a precious local place to this community.”