Let’s Change Gears and Volunteer

Let’s Change Gears and Volunteer

Sunrise is still sound asleep. We drive through the dark with lights on.  During the day US 41 in Sarasota, also known as Tamiami Trail, will turn into a bumper-to -bumper traffic disaster. Before dawn it is empty except for us.

We navigate over the John Ringing Bridge and onto Longboat Key, turning into a condo complex on the beach.

The guard raises the gate. She recognizes the orange car plus the Mote Turtle Patrol Parking Pass clearly displayed on the dashboard.

Slinging on backpacks full of supplies and carrying buckets we head onto the beach, walking down to the jetty then turning north for a mile, checking for new turtle tracks and looking at every marked nest.

Volunteer to Help Sea Turtles

Volunteer in Florida - walk the beach with Mote's Turtle Patrol.
Volunteer in Florida – walk to beach with Mote’s Turtle Patrol. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

This morning, sadly, we find a loggerhead turtle nest that has been dug up. Predator unknown. Dead baby turtles litter the sand. There is nothing we can do except call it in. Permitted persons will clear the nest later. We’re non-permitted volunteers. Our job is to walk, observe, record then call in the findings.

Further on there is a hatch and lots of baby turtle tracks leading down to the water. Success. The little ones made it to the Gulf of Mexico. Their life journey begins. No wonder sea turtles make so many nests in hopes the odds will work for them.

For you, whether a visitor, winter resident or year round live in Florida, the odds for volunteering are excellent – from drop in right now with no training (think food pantries and soup kitchens) to one day workshops and then – the T-shirt is yours. Be inside or outside, the choice of venue determines the climate.

Volunteering adds a satisfying dimension to living here, winter visiting or a short term vacation.

Mote Marine Turtle Patrols, for example, have designated stretches of beach to patrol seven days a week. There are a few catches to this kind of commitment. You must live in Sarasota or Manatee County from May through October – that is turtle season and you must commit to walk one day a week at least. Training is a two-hour mandatory class and you get a Mote T-shirt to wear on patrol days.

Walking the beach as the sun rises, birds hovering on the shoreline, occasional dolphins leaping after bait fish, sometimes even a moon set as the sun rises – ah, this is a tough job but someone has to be out there with the morning beauty – might as well be you! And you are helping to save sea turtles.

All Kinds of Ways to Volunteer

Other opportunities are abundant. Winter residents Bonnie and Bill Sexton arrive in Sarasota every fall open up their house and eagerly begin their winter routine of volunteering, including days at Selby Botanical Gardens and Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota.

Why volunteer?

“Life needs stimulation,” said Bonnie. And part of that is learning new things in the training. “Training at Selby Gardens is constant and on going and fun!  Lectures are once a month, but informal sessions with the botanist, horticulturalist, etc. are often.”

Volunteer in Florida - bonnie Sexton is a volunteer at Selby Gardens, Sarasota
Bonnie Sexton at her volunteer station at Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Plus there are perks to being a volunteer – after 25 hours of volunteering admission to Selby is free. For Turtle Patrol volunteers after a probationary period they get a badge that gets them and three other people into the Mote Aquarium for free.

Training at the hospital consisted of “shadowing” another volunteer. There is also a teen volunteer program. More than 80 volunteer services help support this hospital, similar programs exist in many other hospitals.

Vacations can even be planned around volunteering.  Disney has the Sports Enthusiasts volunteer program at Walt Disney World Resort (email: [email protected]) and the runDisney Volunteer Program at Disneyland Resort (E mail: [email protected]

– you can volunteer for designated charities. All kinds of roles in an event and you do not have to be a runner or athlete.

Select an event from a list of events like the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon then tailor your time and talent.

Florida State Parks have a total of 171 parks and trails pus 30 historic sites, archaeological sites and museums. Individual, group and youth volunteers are all welcome.

For example, individual volunteers may greet visitors, help with special events, join rangers in removing exotic plants or help maintain a beach’s beauty. There is a nifty form to fill out – it has places for you to check the months and times you are available and how many hours you’d like to work. You can even take the form to the park of your choice.

Fall is on the way. Time for a change – volunteer!



Madison, Finn and Else like Mary Margaret Manatee. Submitted photo.
Madison, Finn and Else like Mary Margaret Manatee. Submitted photo.

When my granddaughter Madison was going on a trip to Hawaii recently her mom said she could take one book – and she chose my book “Mary Margaret Manatee: the Adventures of a young Florida manatee” Wahoo! Here she is in Hawaii, on the left, snuggled up with Mary Margaret, another granddaughter Finn on the right and Finn’s school friend Elsa. You too can have Mary Margaret in your life – check out this link to Amazon.








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Visit Sarasota if you want to be invigorated

Visit Sarasota if you want to be invigorated

Want to be invigorated? Then my advice is – visit Sarasota soon.

Why? For starters, here are five why’s:

    1. Be stimulated = Sarasota boasts a playbill loaded with award-winning arts and culture venues. These events don’t take a breather for any season – opera, plays, film festivals, musicals, concerts, art exhibits happen all year long.
    2. Be enlivened = Eclectic cuisine, often local and sustainable, calls out for taste testing like the roasted turkey mango wrap at The Toasted Mango or a buckwheat crepe at C’est La Vie! And the Saturday morning market downtown has more offerings such as fish tacos (Maggie’s Seafood – yum) and freshly squeezed juice. In addition, the nearby Pinecraft Amish Community has Amish traditional cooking (try their rhubarb pie).

visit sarasota - Amish food

    1. Be restored = Walk on the beach, swim, search for shells, smell the salt air, have dinner at a bayside or gulfside diner and watch the sunset every evening over the Gulf of Mexico – any or all of these things will do the job nicely.
visit Sarasota - sunset on LIdo Beach
Sarasota sunset
  1. Be inspired = The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art celebrates a circus legacy and love of art left by this famous couple. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has a display of orchids that will take your breath away. Sarasota Children’s Garden has a secret garden. Mote Aquarium on City Island gets you close to marine life. Sarasota Jungle Gardens is an old time Florida favorite – and the first place I ever saw a black swan.
  2. Be invigorated = Sarasota is a city of parks and trails. Walk the Bayfront. Ride your bike on the Legacy Trail. Take your dog to a dog park.  Get the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County brochures and do a self-guided arts and cultural tour – they have an Arts Trail Map, a Sarasota Circus Heritage Tour and Sarasota County History Center Stroll.

For starters, include a Saturday in your Sarasota travel plans. Ah, how fine it is to stroll through the Sarasota Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, definitely one of my favorite things to do. Don a hat for sunshade, bring a shopping bag and wear comfortable shoes.

visit Sarasota - downtown Saturday farmers market
Sarasota – downtown Saturday farmers market

Visit Sarasota for farmers markets and food temptations

You will face many food choices (or should I say “temptations?”) and many are organic. Stroll along to see generous garden offerings and artisans and all this happens in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

I once saw a flowering pipevine plant at this farmers market that I couldn’t resist. The pipevine is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies. It puts out a flower with an orchid like look. I brought it home, started to plant the pipevine in a big pot and swallowtail butterflies swooped down to lay their eggs even before I had the soil dug up and the plant installed. Awesome.

Several downtown streets are closed to host the market from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday rain or shine. Well-behaved dogs on leashes out walking their owners are a common sight.

Visit Sarasota - farmers market
Sarasota – farmers market

Visit Sarasota a city has it all from spices to shops

Just a slight walk up Main Street from the Farmers Market is Penzeys Spices. Step inside. Inhale the rich, seductive aromas. Take home a spice or two to liven up your cooking, perhaps Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave Chicken and Fish Seasoning. Notice at the checkout counter the free bumper stickers that say “Love People. Cook them tasty food.”

After the market adventure, the next move for me means heading for the Woman’s Exchange, Inc. in nearby Burns Court. The Exchange is absolutely loaded with quality items that you never knew you needed but you do – and it is all for a good cause.

This is a non-profit consignment shop. Consignees get 65 percent of the sale price and the rest goes to support the arts in Sarasota County. Over seven million dollars has been donated to local arts.

Burns Court is a small, lovely and walkable area full of shops, restaurants and the famous Burns Court Cinema housed in a raspberry building. Burns Court Cinema shows first-run, foreign language and art films.

Perhaps this could be a plan for the evening – an early show at Burns Court Cinema then dinner on the bay, sitting outside and eating seafood at the Old Salty Dog on City Island. Yes, you can bring your dog.

Sunday morning put on your walking/running shoes and join the throngs using the new bridge going to St. Armands as the newest fitness destination. Up and over the bridge and the brave continue on the Bayfront walk. That will work up an appetite for breakfast at the Blue Dolphin Café on St. Armand’s Circle. Their bluefin crab benedict is totally over the top.

Visit Sarasota - St. Armands Circle
sarasota – St. Armands Circle

Nearby the beaches are calling . . .ah Sarasota, it is indeed invigorating.

Florida Favorites

In my Florida travels I meet fantastic people who are travel writers, residents, newcomers, guides and entrepreneurs, all are digging into the Florida places they love and finding treasures worth keeping. Here is Erin Duggan, Communications Director for Visit Sarasota sharing her job in her own words:

“I’ve worked at Visit Sarasota County for over 7 years in the position of Communications Director.  It is my job to work with the media to connect them with the stories of Sarasota County that are of interest to them.

From the indulgence of a powder white sand beach, to the escape of a kayak cutting through tropical mangroves, to the power of awe-inspiring works of art, Sarasota County truly offers an experience for every taste, every age, every desire. Many visitors come to Sarasota County to experience the casual elegance of our thriving beach community. Others, drawn to Sarasota’s reputation as Florida’s “Cultural Coast,” revel in the abundant cultural amenities that grace the area and rival the offerings of much larger metropolitan areas. Whether you crave sandy sunsets or rousing encores, you will find a wealth of both — merely minutes away from one another.

Sarasota and its string of eight islands are tucked into the Gulf coast of Southwest Florida, 60 miles south of Tampa and 75 north of Fort Myers. Sarasota County includes Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and Venice.

Sarasota boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to arts and culture amenities. From the performing arts to the visual arts, from classic to edgy, this community embraces its dynamic arts environment.

Strolling through orchids, kayaking through mangroves, communing with wild birds or dolphins – Sarasota County visitors truly benefits from nature’s bounty with a diverse array of outdoor escapes and eco-friendly experiences.

Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

Known for its staggering array of independently-owned restaurants, Sarasota boasts one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida. Sarasota has become a true restaurant destination, whether you seek beach-inspired fresh seafood dishes or five-star gourmet fare.

For more information on discovering Sarasota County, call Visit Sarasota County at 800-522-9799 or visit www.visitsarasota.org.

Did you know?

See page 38 of the Aug/Sept issue of “Florida Gardening” for a lovely review of my book “Florida Gardens Gone Wild”



Pancakes at your table then nature and wildlife to follow

Seeing sandhill cranes at Paynes Prairie near Gainesville

Discover downtown St. Petersburg