Jena Nassar is a first-generation freshman student at FIU’s Honors College pursuing a B.S. in Nutrition. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to gain her M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies and work in neonatology. She enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures, and learning about conservation. Alongside her professional aspirations, she hopes to one day combine her experience and passions to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts abroad.
Friends of the Sea
Friends of the Sea is a nonprofit organization that hosts monthly beach cleanups at Hollywood Beach in Hollywood, FL . The organization aims to bring awareness to the community of the detrimental effects single-use plastic has on the environment.
Hollywood Beach is a place that has grown to be really special to me. My family, friends and I have been visiting the beach together ever since I could remember. We’ve celebrated many occasions and have made countless memories along its beautiful shore and boardwalk. I selected the beach cleanup as a part of my service project because I want to help bring the beach one step closer to the clean and beautiful sandy shore I remember growing up.
As this is a student-led nonprofit organization, many students within my community were spreading the word about the cleanup through social media. I had been seeing and hearing a lot about the work these incredible volunteers do on the beach each month. Their photos showed the amount of waste picked up each time they went out — it was absolutely astonishing. Seeing the difference they could make on Hollywood Beach in a single day, I knew I wanted to get involved.
WHERE & WHAT
The cleanup began at 9:30am on the shore of Hollywood Beach. Upon arrival, we were provided with rubber gloves and reusable bags. I had attended the cleanup with my sister, and we were told to walk across to whichever part of the beach we’d like, trying to stay away from other volunteers to maximize the area covered.
Right off the bat, we began to find litter peeking out from beneath the sand. Bottle caps, empty bottles, straws, destroyed shoe soles, wrappers, glass, old sunglasses, paint cans and countless other oddities were scoured along the shore. We even discovered, to our dismay, a used condom.
It wasn’t long before our bags were already roughly half way full with trash. As we were instructed to meet back at the starting point by 12:30, and we had gotten pretty far, we decided it was a good time to begin heading back. On our walk, my sister and I came upon a large, beautiful seagull laying on its side. As we approached it, we realized that the seagull was lifeless. Once we got past the initial sadness of the majestic bird laying limp on its side, we decided we wanted to bury him beneath the sand. We buried him in a remote area surrounded by plants, a spot we felt surely no one would ever dig into. Although it might seem silly to have a “burial” for a bird, the thought of leaving him to be pecked at, or to rot with people all around him broke our hearts.
We discovered the seagull in the area we had just previously walked through, so we assumed he had just died recently. He did not appear to have any external injuries, so we were perplexed as to how he could’ve died. Seeing the state of the beach, we couldn’t help but wonder, maybe he died from ingesting too much plastic from the ocean? Just the thought of the possibility reiterated to us the reasons why organizations like Friends of the Sea are crucial in creating awareness on how the actions of humans are affecting wildlife.
Upon returning to the group, all the volunteers compiled what they had collected into a large pile. We sorted our collections into recyclable and non-recyclable piles.
The Friends of the Sea beach cleanup was an incredible experience and I cannot wait to take part in the next one! What surprised me the most during the cleanup was that plastic bottle caps were to not be recycled. The City of Hollywood recycling facility does not have the capacity to recycle bottle caps. So when organizing a cleanup it’s important to reach out to the city’s recycling department to determine what they will and will not accept. Nonetheless, as a group, we had collected 67.5 pounds of waste from Hollywood Beach! This is far more than I had expected the group to collect, but it truly shows the impact a group of people can have when working toward the same goal together.
I also volunteered for…
16th Annual Seafood Festival
The Deering Seafood Festival is an annual celebration known for its fresh fish and seafood, celebrity chefs, and kid-friendly activities. The festival includes a section called “Discovery Cove,” which is dedicated to hands-on science. As a part of the FIU Honors College, our Chicken Key Cleanup crew were offered a table at the event to showcase an Eco Art Exhibit. Our goal was to bring awareness to the state of the bay and inform people on how they can help with coastal cleanups.
Our plan was to create a sculpture of a sea turtle entirely out of the waste collected during the chicken key cleanups. On a piece of cardboard, we drew out the shape of the sea turtle and cut it out. We then began laying out the items that had been collected on Chicken Key– various bottle caps, plastic bottles, cans, sandals, and more. We slowly began to pile each piece onto each other, seeing what could be used as the head and what could be used for flippers. The turtle shell design was made from a mosaic of broken glass bottles and colored caps. The flippers were made from weather-beaten slippers.
Admittedly, it was daunting to see the buckets of old bottles and broken glass and think “we’re somehow supposed to turn this into a sea turtle?” But I am incredibly proud of the way it turned out! The 16th annual Seafood Festival was scheduled to take place on March 29th, 2020, but due to the outbreak of Covid-19, was rescheduled to October 18th, 2020. Until then, the turtle will be in safe keeping!
The Lotus House
The Lotus House is an organization committed to ending family and child homelessness. They aim to improve the lives of women, youth, and children by providing education, sanctuary, support, and resources to empower them and help them blossom. On March 11th, through the Miami in Miami class, my classmates and I spent the day at the Lotus House offering our help to them in any way we could.
As a part of the sanitation crew, we helped in disinfecting nearly all the surfaces on the first floor of the center. We began by sanitizing one of the classrooms, wiping down each table, chair, handle, and cubby. We then moved onto the children’s playroom and my classmates and I disinfected each and every surface. Later in the evening, as more and more families and children began to appear for lunch, I realized how vital it is to thoroughly sanitize the room– especially with the looming threat of Covid-19.
During our time at the Lotus House, we had the opportunity to speak with the incredible, empowering women working there. Many of the staff members who shared their stories with us came from similar backgrounds as those at the center. It was an unbelievably humbling experience to get to work alongside these women for the day. Even if we just played a small part, being any part of making the lives of those at the Lotus House better is an opportunity I don’t take for granted.
“Where Hope Blossoms.” Lotus House Shelter, lotushouse.org/.