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Hello, dear friend,

How could I think of you otherwise? Words cannot express my gratitude for your company on this seven-day journey back in time, which, as I am sure you’ve realized, is also a journey into the future. I hope you’ve taken courage from the tale of a true Environmental Hero, Dr. Tom Kazo. I hope your imagination has caught fire as you’ve visualized yourself paddling on smooth waters reflecting the brilliant hues of a glorious Florida sunrise. Or perhaps you are thinking of how much safer the waters and shorelines are for humans and wildlife, once WRT’s volunteers have removed the debris. Or perhaps you have a dear person of delicate health in your life who could benefit greatly from a You Point We Paddle excursion.

This is the last chapter in our storytelling campaign. This has been a very emotional time for me. I am not a pushy person! But not much gets done in this busy world without a push, a shove, a stomach-churning thrust of audacity. (This campaign has given me new respect for movie-makers, for one thing!) I realize Wildlife Research Team is not everyone’s cup of tea. But your name is on our list because we believe that YOU are a concerned and caring person who would like to make a difference. WRT is known to attract the very best people!

Rest assured that in the future, The Canoe View News will appear in your inbox not more than once a week, maybe even every two weeks, just enough to keep you aware of events, but not just from our Team. There are so many other awesome environmental organizations out there!

Yesterday I went over our Five Outcomes, the plan which will help us best serve the needs of all members of the community as we pursue our quest to protect the habitat from further degradation. Before I present our Sixth Outcome, let me share with you Wildlife Research Team’s most cherished dream: Our black canoes are busy every day in the year, not just on Saturdays. A rotating team of our certified Canoe Guide/Naturalists and their assistants heads out each day on a different excursion: one day, a coastal cleanup; next day, a Canoe View University class on seagrass identification in Biscayne Bay; next day, a Boy Scout Troop works on their Merit Badges; next day, a special canoeing exercise class for over-40 people who want to get back in shape; next day, an artists’ club heads out for a painting excursion; next day, WRT Members enjoy fellowship and fun paddling together for a snorkeling adventure in the Keys; next day, six little kids from a cancer ward and their caregivers get to breathe fresh air for a couple of hours in a You Point We Paddle excursion…It’s exciting, isn’t it, all the things our canoes and our people can do?

How to make that wonderful dream come true? It starts with our Sixth Outcome: Donor-Sponsor
This very special person may live too far from South Florida to enjoy a trip in our canoes, but wants to make sure others can. Wherever this angel’s location, he or she will receive a tax break to be determined by the Internal Revenue Service’s rules. Rest assured, WRT is registered with the State of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to accept donations which are deductible to the fullest extent of the law. We are grateful for donations of any amount! Every drop in a bucket will eventually overflow it!

My friends, in order for us to gather our forces, plan a budget, and do everything we can to insure a positive and sustainable outcome, we must have money in the bank before we launch. We cannot make progress living hand to mouth. We cannot hire people, even part time, unless we have the funds on hand.

It is our determined goal that Wildlife Research Team eventually becomes self-sustaining. Canoe View University and other fee-based programs we discussed the other day are meant to cover the many free services we want to offer to the community in order to fulfill our nonprofit mission. 

Even though a large gift makes a lovely cushion, however, we will not look to just one single donor-sponsor. For one thing, as a public charity, we are required to spread out our donor base so we don’t appear to be “owned” by any one large entity. We really don’t need as much money as many nonprofit organizations to get our work done. We have enough canoes at the moment! Our trailers take a beating, sure, and eventually we will need more of them. Of course we will always have the best volunteers, but in this economy, we must become job creators! Even a part-time paycheck that honors the person’s dedication and expertise is welcome in the average household. We won’t pay anyone “under the table,” either. We will pay for proper third-party accounting to handle payroll taxes and withholding.

The largest item on our Wish List is, of course, our own tow vehicle. The main reason, remember, that we had to screech to a halt in 2009 was that our beloved Sport Trac could not be repaired due to the economic meltdown. Even a decent older pickup truck, or a van would do the job; it would need to be a six-to-eight cylinder model in order to tow our largest, eight-canoe, trailer.

Can you help us with that?

My most cherished personal goal? To find and develop leaders, and put in place the mechanisms to pay them, so that I can hand this off in good conscience to the next generation. I would continue on WRT’s Board to provide a link to our history and keep an eye on things, of course. I would never abandon Dr. Tom’s Dream Team! When Tom was alive, everyone naturally looked up to him for everything. Nobody had as much charisma as Tom Kazo! Knowing he was terminally ill, he tried to set into place some systems to keep us paddling, but he was fighting the cancer and…After he died, I went back to college and took classes that have helped me to develop as a leader in my own right, and to run a business. It was a great feeling to graduate on the Dean’s List! (Drove to school sometimes with a canoe on top of the vehicle which got WRT some great volunteers!)

Can you help us to re-launch Wildlife Research Team’s canoes? 

It’s hard to believe, but 2013 is almost half over; so we are projecting our budget only for the next six months. Our financial goal is $24,000, or $4,000/month. If an environmental hero donates a vehicle to us, we won’t need that much! It’s PEOPLE we need to pay, because those canoes sure can’t paddle themselves. We would not ask any one of our “Environmental Angels”  to donate more than $4,000. This amount could be pledged, in chunks, over the rest of 2013.

Sponsorship is perceived by the public as more generous and heartfelt than advertising, as the sponsor has shown a dedicated interest in the success of the organization. In today’s tough economy, helping out a worthy and active nonprofit is just good business!

Can you become our Sponsor with a donation of at least $1,000?

In return, we’ll give you wonderful PR: your name and logo will be on our new website and on all of our email newsletters and advertising, and of course we will link to your website from ours. We are a grateful bunch, and will keep thinking of ways to honor you over the six months following your donation. Perhaps a special canoe picnic trip for you and your family? (After everyone has gone through Canoeing 101, of course!)

Contact me, Donna Kazo, at your convenience at paddle4research(at)yahoo.com; feel free to call me: 954.474.8194. WRT uses Paypal for our Donate button on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org. Paypal of course extracts their fee. This is usually best for smaller donations. You may choose to write us a check for larger donations.

Well, my friends, I see the dock approaching; time to pull our canoe from this river of time we’ve been paddling together. Just one thing before our journey ends: my wish for you is that you will always find the strength within yourself to overcome any challenge. This is what I learned from being the soulmate of Tom Kazo: that there is a deep strength within us, usually brought forth only by crisis or danger. Canoeing can be dangerous. Canoes have a bad name with some people! But Life itself is dangerous, and Canoeing is a metaphor for Life, as I remarked in Part One. Challenge your muscles, break them down, and they become stronger. Challenge your fears by breaking them down a paddle-stroke at a time, and you will become stronger.

As a not-so athletic mom, I so well recall shaking with fright on some of my earliest canoe trips. I’d get really mad at Tom, when I was really mad at myself! Remember that Tom loved to say, “Knowledge eliminates 99% of fear.” As a scientist, he was always testing, experimenting. At some point I realized I was his guinea pig! When he proudly said to me, “You get into that canoe like walking through a screen door,” I knew I had passed some sort of important test.

If I can do it, so can you. Challenge yourself every day to become your best!

Thank you again for your time and attention. All of us in Wildlife Research Team thank you in advance for becoming an Environmental Angel with your sponsorship of our re-launch!

With great hope and gratitude,

Donna

Photo Credit: Donna M. Kazo. At river’s edge, a Wildlife Research Team canoe awaits the adventure of the day.

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To Serve and Protect on Memorial Day

Hi there, friends, hope your day so far has been splendid. (NOTE: remember that these seven chapters of  this “Mini-guide to Wildlife Research Team” were originally sent out as email newsletters to WRT’s supporters.) As this is being sent to you on Memorial Day, many of you are enjoying a day off work, going to the beach, taking advantage of “special” retail sales, etc. Please remember that we get to enjoy such a day because of the brave men and women who put on a uniform in order to serve this great country. Some, like our founder Tom Kazo, returned home under their own power, but others returned to their native soil in a coffin. And others vanished completely. Tom returned on crutches, as a decorated wounded warrior, and chose to continue to serve and protect the public as a police officer; but his Vietnam memories never left him. I was still picking shrapnel out of him the day before he passed away.

Wildlife Research Team was also founded in order to serve and protect. We have worked to make a difference for two decades, and our volunteers have come from all levels of society. It doesn’t matter to us what your financial status, political affiliation or religious persuasion may be, only that you are willing to grab a paddle and help us serve and protect Nature so that our descendants will be able to enjoy it. And of course, even if you are not physically able to paddle a canoe, you are still welcome to join in the fun!

Today’s post presents five of our six “Outcomes” which we believe, based on our experience, cover everybody, beginning at about the age of seven. Possibly younger, but it depends upon the child’s level of maturity and behavior and how well he or she can be controlled by the parent or guardian. In the other direction, I seem to recall a passenger who was 105 years young!

Remember: it all starts with our basic training session which we call “Canoeing 101” which was the subject of a previous post. Even if you tell us you’ve paddled before, well, WRT does things a bit differently. And hey, it’s FREE, so don’t be afraid of being a beginner! And remember, most people will solemnly swear they are good drivers even on the way to traffic school!

It’s worth repeating: once you have volunteered for twenty (20) hours with Wildlife Research Team, you are a Lifetime Member. There will never be dues to pay! We will be introducing a small user’s fee for Members-only events and excursions, however, to cover the direct costs (campsites, launch fees, food, etc.) and to set up a self-insurance fund that will pay for lost, damaged, or worn-out gear or equipment.

First Outcome: Able-Bodied Volunteer – Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Staff

Criteria:

  • At least 12 years of age;
  • Wants to volunteer with WRT;
  • Wants to become a Member;
  • Physically able to become a strong paddler;
  • Lacks financial means to pay for our fee-based programs.

Outcomes:

  • He or she is welcome to volunteer for WRT cleanups and other physically demanding water-based activities;
  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, etc.;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Welcome to volunteer as assistant on You Point We Paddle excursions;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • Could become a paid, certified Canoe Guide/Naturalist, or other staff member;
  • Therefore: this person won’t ever have to open his or her wallet to enjoy a rewarding relationship with WRT;
  • We consider this opportunity to be part of our nonprofit missionPerhaps a donor would step forward to help this Member pay the user’s fees for some Members-only excursions, which this person might not be able to afford.

Second Outcome: Able-Bodied Volunteer – Client – Student  Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Guide or Staff

Criteria:

  • At least 12 years of age;
  • Wants to volunteer with WRT;
  • Wants to become a Member;
  • Physically able to become a strong paddler;
  • Can easily pay for WRT’s fee-based programs, tours, extra canoe lessons, tuition to Canoe View University classes.

Outcomes:

  • He or she is welcome to volunteer for WRT cleanups and other physically demanding water-based activities;
  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, etc.;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Welcome to volunteer as assistant on You Point We Paddle excursions;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • Could become a paid, certified Canoe Guide/Naturalist, or other staff member;
  • Student of Canoe View University classes;
  • Client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for parents’ anniversary);
  • WRT Members enjoy a group outing, and this person is able to pay user’s fees.

Third Outcome: Passenger – Client – Volunteer – Student  Potential WRT Member – Potential Paid Staff 

Criteria:

  • A person of any age who is less able to paddle due to chronic illness or disability, or perhaps age is a handicap;
  • Able to pay for fun or educational You Point We Paddle tours and/or Canoe View University classes;
  • guide would be required to power this person’s canoe.

Outcomes:

  • Welcome to volunteer for land-based events, such as shop workdays, office tasks, fundraising drives, or the like;
  • If needed, can earn Community Service hours;
  • Earns Lifetime Membership after twenty hours of volunteering;
  • When WRT Members enjoy a group outing for which there are user’s fees, this person is able to pay them;
  • Possibly could become paid staff for land-based jobs not physically demanding;
  • Can afford tuition for Canoe View University classes;
  • Client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for a special personal event);
  • WRT Members enjoy a group outing, and this person is able to pay user’s fees, although a guide will be required to paddle this person’s canoe.

Fourth Outcome: Nature Therapy  Client – Passenger Only

Criteria:

  • People of any age who are not physically able to paddle to improve their health through interaction with nature;
  • May or may not be able to pay for our programs;
  • Unable to volunteer due to limitations of health, age, etc.;
  • Would require our most highly trained guides for the safest possible You Point We Paddle excursion;
  • May require a health care assistant or family member in their canoes (and of course, these people would also be required to attend Canoeing 101).

Outcomes:

  • Improved health!
  • Happiness!
  • WRT would seek sponsors for such excursions so that we could offer Nature Therapy as part of our nonprofit mission and still be able to cover our costs (which would include paying our Certified Canoe Guide/Naturalists).

Fifth Outcome: Client – Passenger – Student

Criteria:

  • Ages 7 and up (with parent/guardian if under 18);
  • Can easily pay for WRT’s fee-based tours or tuition for Canoe View University classes;
  • Not able to paddle strongly enough; definitely require a guide;
  • You Point We Paddle classification;
  • No interest in volunteering, WRT membership, or working as paid staff.

Outcomes:

  • These people may seek “only” personal enjoyment and enhancement of being;
  • Could become a student of Canoe View University classes;
  • Could become a client for other paid programs (ex.: books a customized You Point We Paddle tour for a special personal event).

Where do you see yourself? If we’ve somehow missed you, or a family member or a friend, please let us know. If you think that a challenge to your mobility bars you from enjoying our Canoe View, think again! One of the best features of our wide-bodied 17-foot tandem Mohawk canoes is that we can fix up the center area quite comfortably. We use plenty of cushions, and cover the gunwales (those are the upper edges of the sides of the canoe, for you landlubbers) andthwarts (the crosspieces that keep the canoe from folding up) with foam insulation. Our passengers have become so cozy and relaxed they’ve fallen asleep!

One more day and this particular journey together will be at an end.

Tomorrow, Part Seven, the Sixth and Final Outcome: How YOU Can Help! 

Thank you again for your time, tenacity and interest in our Team.
May your ears catch the song of every bird.

Warmest regards,

Donna

Photo Credit: Donna Kazo. Canoeing in South Florida can happen almost every day of the year! A sparkling December morning on Biscayne Bay, as WRT volunteers set out on a cleanup of the mangrove shoreline of Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. 

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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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Hello and thanks again for your time and interest in Wildlife Research Team. Here we go!

When Dr. Tom Kazo and this writer, Donna McVicar Cannon (later Kazo) founded WRT in 1993, with a single refurbished canoe, a main reason was to help Dr. Tom control his diabetes. It worked: paddling burned off his excess blood sugar and literally saved his life. Although for the rest of his life he was plagued with foot ulcers and was wheelchair-bound at times, he’d wrap his foot well enough to keep it dry in the canoe. Awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle in Vietnam, Dr. Tom was a long-term patient of Miami’s Veterans Administration Hospital, and epitomized the role of “wounded warrior.” So from our outset, WRT has welcomed people who must overcome physical challenges to their mobility.

Dr. Tom was that rare combination of a dreamer and a doer. Which is why our first canoe, a Mohawk Blazer, bought for just $20 because it had a hole in its side, was named Do-er. Our second canoe, purchased new for $300, was named Do-it. In 1994, a generous person donated another Mohawk, a 17-foot “guide” canoe which became Did-It. The fourth canoe, Dunnit, was purchased through a newspaper ad and was a fast racing type made by Sawyer Canoes. When a solo canoe found its way into our fleet, Dr. Tom named it Magnificent Deviation. As the fleet grew, the pattern of “Do” names persisted for the tandem canoes, while the solo canoes would have unique names. As an experiment, Dr. Tom also decided to paint WRT’s canoes black to see if manatees and dolphins would accept the dark shape as friendly, one of their own. He was right: these mammals frequently follow our black canoes on their excursions (see the photo accompanying Part 1 of this series.)

As my dear partner Tom sought to overcome his medical problems, I had my own fears to conquer, more typical of first-time canoeists: tipping, drowning, sharks, alligators… One of his favorite sayings, “Knowledge eliminates 99% of fear” empowered me, though, and I had grown up on a lake in Quebec that was part of the St. Lawrence River, so I did possess a child’s love of “messing around in boats.” We explored waterways throughout South and Southwest Florida inDo-er and shared many adventures as I learned how to be a canoe guide/naturalist. When Do-Itcame along, we were able to initiate our first program, You Point We Paddle. One of us was the “engine” of each canoe, so that the passenger(s) were not required to paddle, although they were always allowed to. YPWP allowed many people to enjoy an excursion with WRT who would not otherwise be able to get out in such a small vessel. This included residents from the VA nursing home, where Tom had spent so many long months. The response of these people was particularly gratifying.

Other programs we developed as the 90s passed were our Stress Relief excursions, our Canoe View Classroom for students and teachers, our trips scheduled for sunrise, sunset, and the rise of the full moon, Canoe Camp, research trips with scientists, and of, course, guided fishing trips, as Dr. Tom was an avid fisherman who “tyed” his own fishing flies.

Everything changed when Wildlife Research Team took on the momentous task of restoring Matheson Hammock’s Hurricane Andrew-devastated mangrove forest, however. Tom had grown up on Miami’s Biscayne Bay; he was a professional powerboat racer in his teens and a fearless sailor who’d captained a small sailboat from Miami to the Bahamas at age twelve. He was sickened to see what Andrew’s force had done to the mature mangrove trees of Matheson Hammock and R. Hardy Matheson Preserve when we paddled along the ravaged coast a few months after the storm. Despite the fact he had only his small disability pension, he vowed at that time to “fix it.”

Tom put the wheels in motion; WRT incorporated in June 1999, and we presently applied to the IRS to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As soon as we received that valuable designation, and with no experience in grant writing, we submitted a proposal to FishAmerica Foundation and the NOAA Restoration Center for a habitat restoration grant. This was 2001; we not only won that grant, for $10,500, but five more, each focusing on a particular area within Matheson’s devastated mangrove habitat. We matched these grants with 10,000+ volunteer hours, so that the total value of these six grants added up to $330,000. What a gift to the residents of Miami-Dade County!

NOAA funds grew our fleet to over thirty canoes. This number includes those first canoes, which were used hard during the first years of our grants; it may be that they are no longer seaworthy. Which is why we bought Florida-made Mohawks of various models, to replace them. As Tom put it, “canoes for every reason and every season.”

In 2000, he fell in love with the North Fork of the New River in Fort Lauderdale, as this “undiscovered” urban waterway still possessed areas along its banks that were remnants of the Everglades. WRT has attained some valuable partnerships as we’ve worked alongside many other concerned people to clean and restore it to full health. WRT was named a Keeper of the River, and we continue to take that role very seriously.

In 2003, our Dr. Tom was chosen to be a NOAA Environmental Hero of the Year, “for his unique vision” which restored the tidal creeks, key to the restoration of Matheson Preserve as an Essential Fish Habitat. His methodology was simple: using only hand tools, canoes, and volunteers, we unclogged the corridors full of giant mangrove trees, and let Mother Nature do the rest with renewed tidal cleansing. It worked. There’s much more to this story, but I am really trying to keep this brief!

The year 2006 was a tough one for all of us in WRT; in early May, Tom succumbed to liver cancer after a long heroic battle; in September, our Matheson grants were successfully closed out. There was no reason to apply for more grants; we’d accomplished what he had wanted us to do. The restoration of Matheson’s mangrove habitat was the best possible testimony to Dr. Tom Kazo’s love and perseverance, and to our amazing and dedicated volunteers who found such inspiration in his courage.

Even as I dealt with deep grief in the loss of my partner and husband, as WRT’s new President and Executive Director, I had my work cut out for me. With the NOAA/FAF grants over, so began our public fundraising phase. I spent countless hours composing letters and emails to friends of Dr. Tom and anyone else who might be a potential donor. Several thousand dollars in donations received by people who wanted to honor Dr. Tom paid our monthly bills for a time.

But we had to do something to benefit the public which would spur them to support our mission. So, in early 2007, I chose to focus on something for which we were already renowned: waterway and coastal cleanups. These would provide volunteer opportunities, community service hours, and would keep our name and reputation in the public eye. For the next two years I created, coordinated and led sixty cleanups, with about 700 volunteers participating. Many tons of harmful marine debris were removed from South Florida’s shorelines.

Our regular cleanups at “our” Matheson Hammock, (and one at Oleta River) paid off when the environmentally aware Miami-Dade County Commissioners Katy Sorenson and Sally Heymantook notice and awarded us some of their “discretionary funds” for our hard work (Commissioner Heyman also donated $500 of her own money!). We also received funding from South Florida Water Management District for our North Fork cleanups, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University, Broward Urban River Trails, Broward’s Department of Environmental Protection, and several community groups.

In October 2008, a trusted mentor told me, “It’s all coming together, you don’t see it because you are too close to it, but it’s coming together.” But it was not to be. December 2008, during the rapid downturn of the global economy, WRT’s 2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac unexpectedly suffered catastrophic engine failure. The horrific timing of this breakdown meant that donations to replace the engine were not forthcoming. This vehicle, purchased new by Dr. Tom in 2005 to tow our canoe trailers, was well maintained but just out of warranty. Any other time, donations would have poured in. Without a dedicated tow vehicle, WRT’s operations trickled to almost nil.

I am sure you are aware of the sad stories, that so many wonderful nonprofits had to shut their doors during the dark days of this Great Recession. At least canoes don’t need to be fed! I have to admit that by summer of 2009 I was suffering from emotional exhaustion. I’d done all I could to raise the funds to fix our Sport Trac but the economy was against me. Fortunately, in 2007, I had taken on a contract for a monthly cleanup which earns us enough to pay the rent on our canoe storage facility. WRT Director Tom Brown took on this task in 2009 and that’s what has kept us alive; on life support, but alive. Yes, another Tom, and he’s an Environmental Hero as far as I am concerned!

There’s something about an anniversary with a zero in the number; so in this, our twentieth year, I’ve determined to get Wildlife Research Team’s black canoes back to work. I’ve regained my strength and my zeal, and it’s darn obvious: the people and wildlife of Florida need us now more than ever before.

Once again, all of us on Wildlife Research Team are grateful for your interest in our small but dynamic group. You are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by looking back through our WordPress blog and our website.

(You may have guessed; the photo at the top is of Tom and Do-er at the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne.)

Hope today the tide is with you!

Donna

Tomorrow: How many good things can a canoe do for you if a canoe is named for doing good?

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