TRAVELTEER: Where Travel Meets Volunteering

1 What an amazing time it has been in the Southern Florida area! We were predicted to have quite the storm come through and yet the sun still persists. Having focused a lot of our time adventuring in areas outside of Fort Lauderdale, I decided to really settle in to see what the city had to offer and it did not disappoint! From its beaches to its downtown, there is such a relaxed, yet lively feeling the city evokes. Often though, in an area that seems like a luxurious beach town with tourist season in flow year round, it becomes easy to overlook the poverty and volunteering need that the immediate community has. As a Travelteer, I want to address those needs, and encourage people who want to travel to the area and enjoy the beaches, to delve past the sandy shores and brunches to help deal with some pressing issues in the area.

2 One issue that is urgent in almost every city in the US is that of abandoned and malnourished pets. As a huge animal lover, I was eager to get involved with a cause that helps our four-legged friends in need. I went to volunteer at Abandoned Pet Rescue, who is able to house and care for over 300 different furry friends! I spent most of the early day cleaning the kitten rooms and washing the beds and comforters they rest on. After a lot of near miss pounce attacks and diabolical glares as if they were plotting against me, I moved on to clean the dog areas around dinnertime. In between the sounds Sarah McLachlan playing in my head, I talked with Lou, the volunteer coordination, and really begin to see the scope of dedication, affection, and care each animal needs to recover and find a good home. Learning how a lot of animals, such as adorable Nuba, a pit bull who had been there for 10 years, won’t likely leave because of the stereotypes her breed faces, was truly heartbreaking. Unfortunately, just like most organizations, Abandoned Pet Rescue (who are constantly at capacity) needs more volunteers to help these animals have a fighting chance.
After an eye-opening day at Abandoned Pet Rescue, my friends and I ventured to Tap 42 to enjoy a local specialty brew along with an amazing lamb burger/goat cheese combo that made it quite a challenge to leave room for dessert. We had to though, as we drove to a South Floridian favorite – Jackson’s Ice Cream Parlor! What felt like the quintessential high school date destination, minus the sweaty palms, inside was a tacky antique feel that only a local mom and pop diner could provide. With all Jackson’s ice cream churned in-house and the hospitable staff offering a never-ending list of recommendations, I had to go with the classic – MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP! After a quick sugar rush followed by a swift sugar crash, it was time for bed and to see what volunteering opportunities await in the morning!

3 On Tuesday, I headed into Miami again to help with Rescue Mission – this time in the kitchen, where they feed over 500 families and individuals that are suffering from hunger and homelessness. Getting started, I met with Flash, who instructed me to put on an apron and a beard net (YES, IT IS FINALLY GROWING BACK TO NEED A NET!) I started working with Perry, emptying boxes of green beans and then bringing bread in for the guests. Soon enough all the patrons were coming in and we began quickly serving the food and ensured every mouth was fed! Experiencing hands-on how many people it takes to feed all residence members and walk-ins really made me realize how every kitchen could always use an extra volunteer or two. I am thankful that during my time spent at Rescue Missions throughout the week I got to see how such passionate people could make a difference in the lives of the community. I cannot wait to see the impact they make on Good Friday when they close off the streets to feed as many people as possible.

4 Following Rescue Missions, I took a fellow volunteers recommendation and headed to the Wynwood Art District, an area that used to be an urban ghetto and has been transformed over the past decade into a cultural renaissance of creativity. Once getting there I put on my most thrifty attire and strolled the streets of wall art, nifty bars, and central hangouts. I stopped into the Wynwood Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in Miami and got their Wynwood IPA. While sipping on the delicious brew, I chatted with a few new friends, Camilo and Josh – both of whom are from the area and try to help make a difference in their local communities. Searching for a quick bite to eat, I was led to The Wood Tavern, a place that at first glance looks like any other bar, but upon entering transforms into it’s own Narnia, turning from typical store front to rad hangout filled with food trucks, gym bleachers, garden tables, and a quality DJ spinning to boot!

5 After eating some carnitas tacos (FOR FREE BY THE WAY), I walked across the street to the Wynwood Walls, a free-roaming art display of murals and poignant cultural statements in the forms of seating options and landscaping. Although, trying to enjoy myself, I couldn’t help but think of the terrorist attack in Brussels earlier that day. As I walked along the walls and seeing a mixture of artistic expression, I couldn’t help but ponder what a world would be like if people could make their points in a constructive, creative way instead of through violence and destruction. Passing through such simple artwork stating, “Give Peace A Chance;” or stumbling across a painting of Yoda holding a sign reading, “Stop Wars,” it is important to remember that in order to stop such hate, you must combat it with a message of love. As a Travelteer, as an artist, as an optimist – whatever your calling might be, we can utilize these tools to make a difference in the world one person at a time. Soon enough, as the night winded down and exhaustion began to set in, I headed back to Fort Lauderdale to prepare for what the next day had in store.