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Posts Tagged ‘Army veteran’

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Hello again, and welcome to the fourth installment of our seven-day journey. You have learned a bit of our history, and we hope you can see the benefits WRT would love to once again offer to the community and the environment.

But before we provide you with the answer to this important question, let me just say that as difficult as it may be to “re-launch” Wildlife Research Team after the Great Recession sucker-punched us, it is NOTHING compared to what Dr. Tom Kazo had to do in 1993!

When in April 1991, the Veterans Administration released him from long-term care in their Miami nursing home, they turned out onto the street this combat-wounded, decorated Army veteran without a pension, not a penny in his pocket or even a glucometer to monitor his diabetes. His two years in their care had caused all of his outside resources to disappear. Basically, they expected him to die in a few months.

My family was happy to take Tom into our home. We had known him from years before, during much better times. We knew very well he had gone out of his way to help so many others, so we were honored to be able to help him. Then came a long and agonizing process: when he applied for a disability pension from Social Security, his two doctorates counted against him! Surely a man so well educated and resourceful was not in need of government assistance, was the message they handed down, and he was denied again and again. As he put it, “I don’t need a handout, just a hand up.” Only when he appeared before a judge in his wheelchair with his feet heavily bandaged after yet another surgical procedure at the VA, was Tom Kazo granted his well-deserved pension, in early 1992.

This, then was when his dream of a Wildlife Research Team, could actually begin to become a reality. It’s a dream that literally came to him on what the VA doctors predicted would be his death bed. Tom proved them wrong, but he was always the best at cheating Death. He had another fifteen years to make it come true, as I wrote in a previous post.

So, even though times are still tough, what we have to do to get our black canoes back to work is a cakewalk compared to what I witnessed back then. I want to also take a moment to give credit to my father, Captain Don McVicar, OBE, who founded an airline in Montreal after World War II, and ran it for twenty years. World Wide Airways helped to build the DEW Line across the Arctic, among many other accomplishments. Tom was a lot like Dad: they were both big guys with huge hearts who never flinched from the hardest task. They were unsurpassed at making something substantial out of thin air. Lucky me: I seem to be genetically inclined to take on a challenge with passion!

Allow me to repeat the question: Where do we start?

Answer: a program we call Canoeing 101

Another good question: why do we need Canoeing 101?

Answer: Twenty years of observing people in canoes…

Watching people freak out and freeze and fight with their partner because they cannot for the life of them make the canoe move in any direction. Having to paddle out and literally tow them to safety.

Hearing canoes cursed hurts my heart!
Not getting to know some really awesome new volunteers who came out to our cleanups just the once, realizing I didn’t have enough time to get to know them during the event.
Waiting for someone to get hurt, and wondering if the release they signed would be enough to protect us.
Being amazed that some people, friends-of-volunteers, usually, were reluctant to share their names or emails with WRT, even though we were letting them use our equipment and represent our good name.
In short, what the heck was I thinking, letting strangers into our canoes? 

I took it on faith, that because we were doing good works, that all would be well. Based on my years of experience, I was sure that only quality people would volunteer for our cleanups, people not likely to sue for some small mishap. Happy to report that we still have an unblemished safety record!

But was this really Team-building? If we didn’t get “return customers” then we— I— had failed them somehow. And how could we fund our operations since we don’t charge dues like all the other nonprofits? We certainly couldn’t even dream of “charging volunteers” who were donating their time, love, muscles, sweat, and gasoline!

Took a while to come up with a plan. Won’t go into all of that angst! Here then is the answer…

Canoeing 101:

  • Will introduce new people to the wonderful lifetime sport and skill of canoeing;
  • To be held close to WRT’s canoe storage facility in Davie (west of Fort Lauderdale) at a spacious canoe launch with plenty of room for canoes to maneuver once in the water, in a sheltered location (our travel expense = nil);
  • To be scheduled on two Saturday mornings per month (to begin with);
  • Will have small classes so that students will receive personal attention;
  • Will be at NO COST to students; providing this free service to the community furthers our nonprofit mission by removing financial barriers;
  • From now on, every single person who will even step into a WRT canoe must go through this course.

(A Few) Benefits of Canoeing 101: 

  • Teach important safety skills in a more controlled environment;
  • Risk Management, forestall lawsuits as no “strangers” will be setting foot in our canoes;
  • Provide a public service; train people in a lifetime skill that may even save their lives later on;
  • Team building, fellowship, fun;
  • Great publicity;
  • Sponsors and donors can readily understand and support this basic training session;
  • As even future excursion passengers (non-paddlers) are required to go through Canoeing 101, this will weed out those who might ruin the trip for others because they find the canoe to be uncomfortable. (We’ve seen it happen!)

Canoeing 101 will be the doorway to a cherished goal of both Tom and myself: a Team within our Team, of trained and certified canoe guides/naturalists who we will financially compensate as valuable employees (NOT independent contractors!). 

As WRT wants everyone to be able to enjoy Nature from our canoes, not just the athletically inclined, we need an A-Team of Canoe Guide/Naturalists to be the “engines” for our canoes in our unique program, “You Point, We Paddle.” Passengers won’t have to paddle, as they may be too young/old/physically challenged.

How and why:

  • Volunteers become Lifetime Wildlife Research Team Members after giving us just twenty hours; they will never have to pay dues. They will be able to volunteer at cleanups and other events, and never have to pay a penny. Financial hardship should not bar good people from helping out!
  • Guides begin, like everyone in WRT, as volunteers, but showing more intensity and dedication;
  • These people will receive ongoing training and certification (CPR, Red Cross first aid, etc.), first, as WRT volunteer/members, and as time passes and they prove their reliability, as paid employees (we will engage the services of an accountant to keep us in compliance with all government entities).
  • Although some people get all they need from volunteering, some are looking for financially rewarding part-time employment;
  • Outside agencies look for accountability to the organization, and having people on a payroll meets that requirement;
  • Volunteers are the lifeblood of a nonprofit organization, but the sad and ugly truth about volunteers is that they know they don’t have to show up, and if they do show up, they don’t have to do a good job. What can I say? People have their own reasons, or excuses, for everything they do, or don’t do.
  • WRT has been blessed with the highest-quality volunteers any organization could ever ask for, I hasten to add.

Would YOU like to become part of a great organization with a twenty-year history of making a difference to the people and wildlife of beautiful South Florida? Or would you be happy to just learn how to make that doggone canoe move forward, so that you and your loving partner don’t turn the air blue cursing at each other? Would you like to improve your physical health while enjoying a Canoe View of Florida’s many waterways? Would you like to be PAID to paddle a canoe?

All of the above begin with good ol’ Canoeing 101.

Tomorrow: Canoe View University

Thanks so much for sticking with me! There’s been so much to cover on our journey together.
On behalf of the amazing people who have given of their time for our Team, I wish you a day of knowing you are making the right decision at every turn.

Think about it: what better gift could there be?
Your future Paddle Pal,

Donna

Photo: Members of Boy Scout Troop 254 are learning the fine points of paddling while working towards their Merit Badges, courtesy of Wildlife Research Team.

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