Micaela, Rex and Maliha

People + Parks: Growing the Next Generation

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People + Parks

By Elizabeth McGuire

For Micaela, Rex and their daughter Maliha, Saturdays are for volunteering. Not just some Saturdays, but every single one. It’s not a matter of if they are volunteering, but where.

“I come home Friday night and I ask, what are we doing tomorrow?” said Rex. The answer is usually planting saplings, mulching trees or picking up trash at a park or school. The family is happiest when outside, so it’s natural that their volunteering efforts focus on green spaces. As members of APF’s Little Hummingbird Society, they are able to work alongside other families on projects that are specifically designed around young volunteers.

“I grew up volunteering,” explained Micaela. “My mom always had me out volunteering and she made it a point that I understood about the environment and that I knew how to take care of it.”

Micaela wants 6-year-old Maliha to grow up with that same appreciation and commitment to the environment and the community. She hopes the family’s consistent efforts teach their daughter that volunteering is not a novelty, but a lifestyle.

“I need her to know that this is normal life—volunteering is what we do,” said Micaela.

These life lessons also happen to be fun for all three of them.

Maliha loves to get her hands dirty and has been known to climb right up to the top of a giant mulch pile. If you ask her about favorite memories from volunteer events, you will hear stories of dragging the mulch sleds, planting baby saplings and then naming them, and “that one time there was water and we got mud all over us!”

Rex and Micaela say the events have introduced them to lesser known parks all over town. They often work at a new park and later return to enjoy it or check on their projects.

“It’s about appreciating nature and seeing something so small grow so big,” said Rex. “It will take a long time, of course, but as long as we keep coming back and showing her the trees that we planted, it will make an impact. We get to see that the parks are clean when we leave them, and then come back later to see that they’re still clean. We’re making a difference in the world.”

Volunteering with Austin Parks Foundation and Little Hummingbird Society also guarantees that the project is family friendly. Micaela says her daughter makes a new friend at every event.

Some volunteer organizations don’t welcome kids or maybe don’t allow kids under 12, so just being able to take Maliha with us is important,” Micaela said. “First of all, we’re parents and we don’t have the option of leaving her behind, but also we want to make her a part of what we’re doing. She gets to grow up seeing the importance of these projects and seeing other children doing the same thing. We’re building the next generation of volunteers.”

People + Parks is a series by writer and photographer Elizabeth McGuire and is dedicated to showcasing the people who make our work possible. Check out other stories by choosing the People + Parks category on our blog.