“I got a fossil, a big one,” he said excitedly about his discovery during the beach exploration portion of the Guadalupe Center’s 26th annual Buddy Day, held recently at Hideaway Beach.
The event pairs second grade students from Immokalee’s four elementary schools to Marco where these “little buddies” are paired with “big buddies,” in the person of adult volunteers from Hideaway, Verona Walk and Fiddlers Creek for a day of fun and learning.
Guadalupe Center is an Immokaleebased nonprofit dedicated to using education to end the cycle of poverty for the community’s low-income children. Its programs include early childhood education for pre-schoolers, after-school tutoring for elementary students, summertime enrichment, and a college preparatory tutor corps that provides mentorship and work experience for high school students.Buddy Day interactive activities included birding, nature studies, games led by staff from the Greater Marco Family YMCA and healthy snacks, along with golf cart rides. Each youth also received a book and a stuffed animal. Educational stations were hosted by staff from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and rangers from Big Cypress National Preserve. “After working hard all year in the after school program, they come to Buddy Day as a reward for all their hard work,” Amy Chancy, the Guadalupe Center’s director of grants and corporate relations, said of the 105 second graders who took part in the most recent event. Mark Ryan, who, along with his wife Linda, has been involved with the center and Buddy Day for 10 years agreed.
“Our purpose, No. 1, is to give these kids a fun day at the beach because a lot of them have never even seen the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ryan. “The second is because we want to involve the community in doing something good for the kids of Immokalee. Hideaway has been at the epicenter of that for many, many years.”
Brandon was also enthralled with the birding program, which required the youngsters to walk a trail with their big buddy, stopping at stations where there were pictures of several of the region’s native birds. The children would jot down their avian creature’s characteristics and then use those clues to try and correctly identify them. They were also provided with cardboard, temporary binoculars to use for birding at home.“They all had different colors, but kind of the same eyes,” Brandon said, a sense of wonder in his voice about that discovery and the difference in perspective that the practice binoculars provided. “When you look at them, they look super small and when you put the binoculars on them, they look really big.” Cornel Taylor was equally impressed.
“The birding experience was great,” he said. “I learned about how the birds act and I learned about the birds’ colors. It was fun.”
The children were accompanied from their hometown by a number of Immokalee High School students who are part of the college preparatory tutor corps, including MarielaGalvan, 15, who took part in Buddy Day when she was in second grade.
Galvan said her favorite memory of that Buddy Day was riding in the golf carts and that the event marked her first visit to the Gulf.
“It was a fun day,” she said. “It was really exciting for me. It was one of the first times I’d really been out somewhere, when I was a kid.”