June 15, 2008

Seeds of Change

By Renaldo Smith, The Miami Herald

Jun. 15--Breyana Roundtree was a bundle of energy.

After glancing over a poster collage of pictures of rain forests, she rushed over to a table about 10 feet away and started to paint. Minutes later, she was in the corner putting seeds in a cup as part of a seed germination exercise.

As much as her activities changed, though, the smile on the face of the 7-year-old remained the same.

Breyana was among children and adults who turned out for the second annual "Planting of the Seeds, Growing the Future" environmental fair held June 7 at the Belafonte Tacolcy Center and the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City.

The fair was a collaboration between the center, the church and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden intended to promote a clean environment and provide tips on beautifying the neighborhood.

Caroline Lewis, director of education at Fairchild, said the program was both unique and important.

"We want the community to get a little excited in helping us celebrate nature. I think we are empowering them in a way," Lewis said. 'You start small and then maybe little groups of kids would come together and say, 'We could make a difference.' Today, we are giving them ideas, strategy and art so that they see the beauty of nature. There's something about connecting with nature that gives you a little human growth."

The children participated in arts and craft activities such as painting, played games designed to teach facts about rain forests, planted trees and learned about germination.

Alison Austin, CEO of the Tacolcy Center, said she recognized that it could be difficult, but not impossible, to interest youth in the environment.

"We talk about how trees are filters for good oxygen. We talk about how plants in the waters are filters that help clean the water so that the water that goes into our aquifer is clean," Austin said. "I think when you connect environmental terms with social terms you begin to weave it together. We have to connect the dots in interrelated ways to help children understand concepts about the environment and how it relates to their everyday lives."

Each summer, the center runs the "Ecology Through Technology" program to introduce middle school children to the ecology of South Florida. Florence Eloi, head teacher at the center who leads the program, said she takes a hands-on approach to give students as much practical work as possible.

Another segment of the environmental fair took place across the street at the Church of the Open Door, where Carolyn Adams was teaching members of the Aubrey Watkins Simms Memorial Garden Club how to create floral arrangements. When Simms, a longtime member of the church and the Fairchild board, died in April 2006, her husband Robert started the memorial garden in her honor.

"Flowers were her passion. She was one that tried to beautify Liberty City. She always would do whatever it took to try to beautify the black communities of Dade County. So this was her passion and that's why today is so important," Simms said.


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