On an anniversary, it’s natural to look back, and we’ve done that in several stories in this special anniversary issue. But as we celebrate the past, we’re also thinking about the future, wondering if the Sarasota of tomorrow will be as vibrant, creative and interesting as the one we’ve been covering for the past 30 years. A new generation will decide that question, so we asked schools, arts groups, charities and other organizations that work with youth if we have reason to hope. They introduced us to a remarkable group of young men and women. They’re scarily smart, endlessly energetic and passionate about their particular causes. If these ambitious and articulate young Sarasotans are any indication, the future looks bright indeed.
New Gate School senior Colin Coon, 18, will spend March and April driving 12,000 miles cross-country and back in a 1980 Mercedes Benz 300TD wagon he’s converted to run on vegetable oil. “I’m very interested in greener transportation and alternative fuels and all that good stuff,” says Colin, a self-described mechanic and tinkerer. “It’s out there; we just need to focus more on it. We’re stuck in thinking fossil fuels are the only way to go. And if I can [convert a vehicle to biodiesel], anybody can.”
Colin, inspired by his pilot grandfather and uncle, has been flying gliders and small planes since the age of 12; he plans to attend a Florida university to study aerospace engineering or aviation science. Meanwhile, he will record his experiences of finding alternative fuel sources on his road trip on a Web site he created for the project; track his progress at www.colinsgreenmachine.com.
Yes, that was Zander Srodes’ face on 25 million bags of Cool Ranch Doritos last fall. The 18-year-old Lemon Bay High grad, currently a freshman studying wildlife conservation at the University of Hawaii, was one of nine finalists in the Do Something category at the Teen Choice Awards, which aired nationally on FOX-TV in August. (The award presenter was Scarlett Johansson.) Zander was just 11 in 2001, when beach walks near his family’s weekend home on Little Gasparilla Island awakened him to the plight of sea turtles. He contacted Mote Marine Laboratory for advice in launching an educational program he could take to kids his own age. Since then, he’s presented Turtle Talks to more than 1,000 students and has distributed 100,000 copies of his activity book to youngsters across the Gulf states and Caribbean.
Zander says his message is simple but vital: “We are the generation that will determine the fate of sea turtles. It is up to us to support conservation efforts so that these dinosaurs can continue to swim the globe.” As for those Doritos bags, “I first learned they were out from a friend who called to tell me he saw me staring at him from across the room at a party as someone poured chips into a bowl.”
Longtime Girl Scout Laurabeth Goldsmith, 16, spent July 2007 as a junior counselor at Scout Camp Juliette Low in Kansas City, feeding, clothing, bathing and diapering youngsters with cerebral palsy, spina difida, autism and Down’s syndrome. The touching essay she wrote about her experience won her the national Scout Global Citizenship contest and a trip to Europe last summer. Diagnosed herself with a mild learning disability in third grade, Laurabeth decided early on “not to let it stop me, but to turn it around to help other people,” she says. “Regardless of the limitations you may think you have, you can always go above and beyond.”
And where does she want to go? “Into politics,” she says. “Through advocacy, I can make the world a better place.” A junior at Pine View, where she is president of the Key Club, Laurabeth is currently raising money to build a five-room school in Bangladesh. So far she’s raised more than $2,000 of the $8,000 she needs to get two matching Rotary International grants. This summer, she plans to travel to Bangladesh to work with Rotarians there to build the school.
Read Laurabeth's award-winning essay at the bottom of this article.
A teacher at Booker Middle School introduced Faith and Charity Bouie to their first musical instrument, the violin, five years ago. Now 17 and seniors in the Booker Visual and Performing Arts program, the twin sisters are Sarasota Orchestra youth program standouts—Charity is concertmaster and a finalist in the Young Artists Concerto Competition; she and Faith made their first trip to New York City when the youth orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall in June. Both intend to major in music performance at one of the nation’s top conservatories and to launch solo careers. And those who’ve witnessed their talent and poise do not doubt them.
The first musicians in their family (mom is a registered nurse; dad is an entrepreneur), the girls say the violin captivated them at first sight. “We really liked the way it looked and sounds,” says Charity. “It’s sweeter and more expressive than other instruments, more like a voice.” Progress was immediate. “If you play it a lot and you love it, you can improve quickly,” she says. Faith says the violin changed everything for her. “I’m mentally a lot more powerful,” she says. “I’m more self-confident; I have a whole new idea of life.”
Jihad Lahham arrived at the Ringling College of Art and Design from Damascus, Syria, four years ago with a green card and “maybe 10 words of English, something to get you out of the airport and not in jail,” he says. (He came on the heels of his older brother, Jamil, who graduated last spring and is now an animator for Sony Imageworks.)
Now 25 and effortlessly articulate in English, the senior graphic design and interactive communications major last fall won his second consecutive national industrial design competition sponsored by Rockport. His design, a dazzling store display for Rockport’s Walk Dry shoes composed of a graphic icon-adorned Plexiglas aquarium tube that glows from within—orange by day, sea-blue by night—won him $5,000, a trip to New York and national design notoriety. Jihad used the prize money to help pay tuition. He also recently won Ringling College’s coveted Trustees Scholarship, the highest honor bestowed upon a senior in each department for their artwork, awards, grades and community service. Jihad graduates from Ringling in May and wants to stay and work in the States. “I’m stubborn,” he says. “If I want to do something, I will do it.”
THE ACTIVIST New College of Florida senior Evan Axelrad was 10 when his parents took him on his first overseas trip to Asia. “I saw poverty for the first time,” says the 21-year-old from Forest Hills, N.Y. “Even from that early age I was aware that life in [some] other countries is drastically different from the life I know.” At New College, Evan is majoring in environmental science and political science, planning to focus his future career on international development work in either food security issues or agricultural policy—“whatever has the greatest impact on reducing hunger and poverty.”
New College of Florida senior Evan Axelrad was 10 when his parents took him on his first overseas trip to Asia. “I saw poverty for the first time,” says the 21-year-old from Forest Hills, N.Y. “Even from that early age I was aware that life in [some] other countries is drastically different from the life I know.” At New College, Evan is majoring in environmental science and political science, planning to focus his future career on international development work in either food security issues or agricultural policy—“whatever has the greatest impact on reducing hunger and poverty.”
Toward that goal, he interned last summer at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington and presented a paper on development, governance and capacity building at the World Bank Global Forum. And this month he’s in Zambia, working on his senior thesis, which deals with the role of genetically modified food in the U.S. food aid program. He’ll find out at the end of January whether his application for a Fulbright grant is accepted; otherwise, he plans to join the Peace Corps and return to Africa for two years to “get some real-world experience” before grad school. Somehow he manages to also find time to coordinate a new, grant-funded peer mediation program at Venice High. “We’re there not to tell the students what to do, but how to communicate,” he says.
Special Web-only feature:
A Rewarding Challenge at Camp Juliette Low
by Senior Girl Scout Laurabeth Goldsmit
Some people spend their summers lying on the couch watching TV, and others spend months lying on the beach. For me, though, there was a no more rewarding way to spend my summer than as a volunteer counselor at Camp Juliette Low in Kansas City, Missouri.
Camp Juliette Low is a residential summer program for physically and mentally handicapped campers. Participants have such challenges as autism, mental retardation, Down's syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy or spina bifida. This summer helped me to realize that there is a whole world of diversity among the handicapped.
Camp helped me understand how privileged and lucky I am to be able to take care of the basic necessities of life. As a counselor, I was responsible for changing, showering, diapering, toileting, brushing teeth, and campers. At the beginning, it was a challenge to adjust to changing the diapers and clothing of campers who were older than me, especially since these individuals were only physically disabled. By the end of camp, however, I realized that my campers were not all that different from me. Though they needed help taking care of some basic needs, at heart we were all just adolescents there to have fun.
Every other day I worked with the campers in the pool, sometimes even teaching the J-Low swim program.
(I had to take a Red Cross adaptive aquatics course that taught me how to help the campers in the water.) On the first day of camp I worked with a 13-year-old girl, Sarah, diagnosed with arthrogryposis, a disease that renders a person unable to walk and do most of the daily activities we take for granted; simply lifting her the wrong way can result in multiple broken bones. After I helped get her into the water from her electric wheelchair, she and I started to play. When I asked her if she wanted to work on the Juliette Low swim program, she answered me like I was crazy. “I can’t do that,” she said. “I can’t swim or even float by myself.” I was determined to help her, and by the end of the summer she could swim across the pool with only one finger under her head to help keep it above water. I beamed with pride and satisfaction when I saw her smile of accomplishment. I had helped open a whole new world for Sarah.
The motto of Camp Juliette Low is, “What you put in is what you get out.” My time at Camp Juliette Low demonstrated that this motto is not quite correct; although I put in a great deal of effort, I gained at least ten times as much in return.
Laurabeth of Girl Scout Troop 141 is 15 and a sophomore at Pine View School in Osprey.