To provide young people in our community with the opportunity to develop educational, therapeutic and vocational skills by caring for wildlife and the environment in a safe, structured setting.
The Youth Education Program was established at FWMA in 2003. Through the financial generosity of grants from the BJ Foundation the program was completely financed for the first four years. Since then, partial funding for the program has come from The Melba Bayer Meyers Foundation and The Batchelor Foundation.
The program has evolved over the years to incorporate a diverse number of opportunities for the young people in our community. The end goal is to educate our volunteers and onsite learners about animal welfare, compassion for life and basic job skills. Being a part of FWMA gives young people hands on experience in the field of wildlife rehabilitation thereby enhancing their knowledge of biology, ecology, zoology, and the natural world. Self esteem and basic job skills are learned through routine schedule and constant support by FWMA staff, creating an ethical community and team attitude. We also believe education is the key element in preventing undue harm to wildlife and is essential for the overall protection and sustainability of our environment.
The Youth Education Program covers many different paid and volunteer opportunities for the young people in our community. Participants in the program are children from highly diverse backgrounds and our program is designed to accommodate all of them. They range from those who are disabled, economically disadvantaged, or at risk youths with behavioral issues, all the way to those who are academically gifted and are seeking credit towards a scholarship or experience towards a future related career. FWMA is proud to be able to offer these services in a rural area where very few opportunities like this exist for our youth. Following is a description of our programs.
Outstanding Wildlife Learning Students (OWLS)
FWMA selects its paid staff from the many diverse volunteer programs we have to offer. We hire young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 who have shown true dedication and are in need of the financial support we can offer. Through both directive and supportive training FWMA provides a unique work environment that encourages many of our staff to gain knowledge of wildlife rehabilitation. The center has been given the ability to care for many more animals than we ever thought possible and has allowed our other staff and volunteers the opportunity to watch these young people learn, grow, become more tolerant of each other and express a side not seen in school or at home.
FWMA is not your regular 9 to 5 job. The animals rely on the employees for all of their needs and their recovery depends on the quality of care that they receive. The students that are chosen to be employees at FWMA come from different economic and family backgrounds and are put together at our facility to make a team. We have watched all our students develop compassion for wildlife and the other young people they work with. These programs have evolved through the students and have changed the lives of many young people.
Working here provides an excellent opportunity to pursue a career in animal welfare or environmental protection. Staff not only have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of medical treatment, animal husbandry, and animal conditioning, but also gain valuable insight into fundraising and the complexities of operating a wildlife rehabilitation center.
The OWLS Program offers between five and twelve part time paid positions each year (numbers depend on financing available).
Scholarship Service Hours
FWMA is an approved organization providing students in the local area the opportunity to earn community service hours. The hours that could be potentially earned here can be used to fulfill the “hour” requirement for many scholarships including Bright Future’s Florida Academic Scholar (100hrs), Florida Medallion Scholar (75hours), and the Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholar (30hrs). Our safe and fun work environment not only fulfills requirements for many scholarship opportunities but encourages our students to pursue veterinary and conservation careers. If you would like a hands-on, once in a lifetime experience FWMA welcomes you with open arms to our team!
During the average year over 450 hours are completed under the Scholarship Service Hours Program here at FWMA.
FWMA works with the Department of Juvenile Justice to allow local young adults to complete their court-ordered community service hours. These youths work one on one with FWMA staff and senior volunteers as they are incorporated into our family atmosphere. They help with any number of tasks around the facility including, but not limited to, facility maintenance, feeding the animals, and cleaning the cages.
The objective of this program is to help provide necessary educational and vocational skills in addition to nurturing a love of all things natural and the respect that goes with it. Not only does this program teach respect for people and the environment but also important life skills such as; how to communicate with a diverse collection of individuals, stay organized, be effective at multitasking, solve problems, and have a sense of pride in your accomplishments.
Participants in the program are also exposed to a far ranging group of professionals, rehabilitators, veterinarians, and other young adults who volunteer their time and effort away from university classes. This exposure allows them to interact and form friendships with people who they would not normally have an opportunity to meet with. The assistance provided at FWMA can help galvanize participants into striving for educational pursuits they might have once considered improbable if not impossible.
During the average year over 1200 hours are completed under the Juvenile Justice Program here at FWMA.
Wakulla County Sheriff’s Department Second Chance Program
This program is offered by Wakulla County Sheriff’s Department. It is for children and teenagers who have gotten into trouble with the law and who have chosen to perform community service hours to keep a conviction from appearing on their records. These individuals require constant supervision by a FWMA staff member or volunteer while on FWMA premises. The benefits to the young person are similar to those seen with the Juvenile Justice Program with the addition of successful completion resulting in a clean record for the young person!
During the average year over 100 hours are completed under the Second Chance Program here at FWMA.
Exceptional Student Education Program (ESE)
Students of all levels and abilities are welcome in the FWMA family, particularly children with developmental disabilities. There are projects and hands-on experience for anyone interested in enriching the environment and gaining life skills.
Wakulla Employability Skills Training (WEST program) is a locally run program over 20 years old and kept alive by the community. Our facility works directly with Wakulla High School to provide Exceptional Student Education (ESE) participants a supportive location for essential growth and developed by focusing on an individual’s abilities rather than their disabilities. The ESE students at FWMA are inspired and encouraged to reach their full potential while learning useful and valuable employment skills.
From 10 to 20 program hours are offered every week and during that time our students work as a team to accomplish much needed duties that keep our center looking beautiful. ESE participants are an imperative and much appreciated part of our team.
Outreach with Project Learning Tree
Twice a year over two hundred elementary school children participate in Project Learning Tree hosted by St. Marks Refuge. FWMA is a proud supporter and participant of this nationwide initiative to educate students about our wildlife and their environment. FWMA brings out its animal ambassadors as a tool to help spread environmental awareness. Our animal ambassadors are wildlife patients that have been rehabilitated at our facility but their injuries have left them unable to return to their natural environment. Having our ambassadors at Project Learning Tree gives participants a more personal connection and appreciation for their wildlife neighbors; they are the foundation of the bridge that connects our human community with the world of wildlife.
Approximately 450 students benefit from this program each year.
Throughout the year we are asked to do a number of education programs in our schools, local libraries, churches and to participate in community events. This involves taking our education animals and materials off site and sometimes requires setting up an education booth with activities for both children and adults.
FWMA’s participation in these events is supported by grant money – with more funds, our outreach would continue to grow.