Okeeheelee Nature Center assists with Gray Fox release

In September, three Gray Fox kits were released into the wild at Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center in Okeeheelee Park, as part of a joint effort between Palm Beach County and the South Florida Wildlife Center.

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The Gray Fox Kits

Before arriving at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC), the three fox kits were taken in as orphans by the South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC).

Two of the foxes were sisters, arriving at SFWC in May 2015 from Hollywood Hills High School at just a month old and weighing about 300 grams each. They were bright, alert and responsive. The other fox was picked up – also at a month old – from Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in June, having been found at an unknown location in Miami-Dade County. He had a degloving wound on his tail, whereby the skin and fur are essentially torn off the bone. The wound was treated for about a month. All of the foxes were treated for parasites, vaccinated and hydrated.

During their 6-month stay in the rehabilitation facility at SFWC, the foxes learned essential survival skills  in their enclosure and were regularly vaccinated. Human contact was very limited to avoid imprinting, which is a serious problem when wild animals become accustomed to humans and lose their fear of people. Imprinted animals cannot be released into the wild and must spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The Soft Release

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The fox kits were 7 months old when they arrived at ONC in September 2015. They were released that same month in an area on the nature center’s 90-acre preserve. The release was coordinated by SFWC’s Release Specialist, Shelby Proie, as well as ONC’s Manager, Callie Sharkey.

The “soft release” process involved putting a temporary enclosure in the area where the fox kits were located, and feeding them for two to three days. During this time, the kits became accustomed to their new surroundings, allowing them to easily establish a territory soon after the doors open.

Wildlife trap cameras were put up inside the enclosure, as well as on a nearby tree in order to track the fox kits’ activities. When the doors opened, the foxes left after about 15 minutes. One fox returned three days later to observe the space, but didn’t stay. Volunteers and staff have seen tracks in the area, but not the actual foxes – which is a very good sign of their successful transition into the wild.

A release of this kind was a first for Okeeheelee Nature Center. Okeeheelee’s pine flatwoods habitat made it an ideal location for the fox release, since it’s reasonably protected and there’s plenty of food for the foxes to hunt and forage to survive on their own.

Okeeheelee Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and features 2.5 miles of trails winding through 90 acres of pine flatwoods and wetlands. Highlights of the center include hands-on exhibits, animal encounters, and more. Guests can marvel at birds of prey, touch a live snake or prowl for owls during one of the many programs scheduled throughout the year for families, youth and adults.

This was a pre-approved and joint effort by the South Florida Wildlife Care Center, which is affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. Palm Beach County’s three nature centers DO NOT serve as rehabilitation centers, nor can they accept injured or stray animals on site. Please contact the South Florida Wildlife Care Center directly [954-524-4302] if you find an injured or stray animal.

Hundreds gather for opening of San Castle Community Center

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Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, County Administrator Verdenia Baker and about a dozen other community leaders joined the local community to celebrate the grand opening of the newly-renovated San Castle Community Center Saturday morning. Each clenched scissors awaiting the cue to cut a long, red ribbon that symbolized months of team work and a future dedicated to lifting up the children and families of the community sandwiched between Lantana and Hypoluxo.

“Our role in this collaborative endeavor is to elevate the voices of those who reside here and ensure that their hopes and needs for the community can be actualized,” said Jaime-Lee Brown, Vice President of Community Services at Community Partners.

In 2003, the nearly 2,000 square-foot building was constructed at the request of the San Castle Community Leadership group, a not-for-profit organization created to advocate for the needs of San Castle community. Originally, the facility was envisioned as a transitional approach to address the immediate needs of the community, which at that time was identified as early childhood education. Residents also envisioned the facility as a community center.

In June of 2014, when the responsibility for Head Start was outsourced, multiple Palm Beach County departments – including the Facilities Development and Operations Department, the Office of Community Revitalization, and the Sheriff’s Office – worked diligently to identify a nonprofit organization to partner with the community to lease and manage the community center.

Housing Partnership, Inc., DBA Community Partners, was selected to take over the facility. Community Partners will be 2015-11-07-SanCastleCommunityCenter-13teaming up with area service providers to offer social service referrals, connections to quality after-school care, adult education classes, health education seminars, teen pregnancy prevention, parenting programs, drug and gang prevention and mentoring, as well as other programs intended to support the needs of the San Castle community. The center is open to residents regardless of income, and there are no federal eligibility requirements to participate in the programs.

Prior to its opening, the facility underwent interior renovations, including air conditioning and flooring replacements. The exterior has been weather-proofed. Palm Beach County Facilities Development and Operations designed and oversaw the project construction; funds for the renovations – $150,000 – came from the Department of Economic Sustainability’s allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds.

The existence of this community center could have not come to fruition without the support of Commissioner Priscilla A. Taylor and the time, cooperation, and collective effort of the Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization, Facilities Development and Operations, Department of Economic Sustainability, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Community Partners, as well as Robling Architecture Construction, Inc.

At the opening event on Saturday, several service agencies set up tables to ensure families had access to free information, food, and fun to celebrate the opening of the facility. Individuals representing Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation, Drowning Prevention, Environmental Resource Management and others were present to greet families and educate them on resources available to create happier, healthier lifestyles.

2015-11-07-SanCastleCommunityCenter-47The community center is more than just a facility for residents to gather. The facility will provide an opportunity for residents to access resources and work with center staff and the Office of Community Revitalization towards a common goal – building community ownership and capacity. The future looks bright for the community with the center opening and the momentum being created in preparation for the Abundant Community Initiative. ACI is a pilot project that follows a national model that supports grassroots efforts to increase neighborhood wellness by encouraging strong connections between neighbors. The overall goal of the project, spearheaded by the Office of Community Revitalization, is to help communities to be places where people know their neighbors, watch out for each other, take pride in where they live, and enjoy many opportunities for social, educational, and recreational interaction.

San Castle Community Park
The Community Center is situated in San Castle Community Park, located at 1101 Mentone Road in Boynton Beach. It is one of the two neighborhood parks designed, built and partially funded by the Parks and Recreation Department in the community. The park opened more than a decade ago and is utilized by the residents of the San Castle community. The 1-acre park features playgrounds for kids 2-12 years old, a gazebo, a half-court for basketball, bicycle racks and a drinking fountain. The park is open from Sunrise to Sunset.

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Lantern Festival attracts 6,000 at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

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Thousands gathered at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach for the 2015 Lantern Festival: in the Spirit of Obon. The event sold out in 13 days! It brought visitors young and old to the museum for a day of Japanese folk-dancing, drumming, an Ennichi street fair, and of course, the iconic lantern floating ceremony.

This annual festival aims to promote stewardship of natural and cultural sites.

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is located in Morikami Park at 4000 Morikami Park Road and is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. It has been a center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida since its opening in 1977. For more natural, archaeological and cultural opportunities, visit www.pbcparks.com.

Watch this short video to get a glimpse of 2015’s Lantern Festival!

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation awards check to local organization

It was an exciting day for one local organization as they accepted a check for more than $19,000 from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.DSC_9442

Endless Possibilities for the Disabled is a local non-profit group that provides social experiences through sports and recreation to improve the quality of life for persons living with disabilities. Their sports include boccia, goalball, handcycling, power soccer, sitting volleyball, sled hockey, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby, and are often played at Palm Beach County’s Therapeutic Recreation Complex in Lake Worth.

On October 20, the group was awarded a grant check in the amount of $19,500 from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The night included a speech from Alan T. Brown, the Director of Public Impact with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a check presentation, and a photo shoot with athletes from Endless Possibilities. After the presentation, the athletes wheeled around the court showing off their basketball skills in the wheelchairs.

“We just want to make sure that Chris and Dana’s dream of what they wanted for this community stays alive… and I’m honored to be here to give this check to Endless Possibilities and to make sure that there’s sports going on in Palm Beach County that weren’t normally here,” said Alan Brown.

DSC_9446By purchasing the basketball wheelchairs, the organization will now be able to start a basketball program. “To do the program before, we had to take money out of our own pockets, which is very minimal. This allows us to do so much more, to reach more people, to provide more programs,” said Endless Possibilities’ secretary, Charlie Brown.

The money will also be used to pay for ice time for the Sled Hockey team. “They reach so many people with paralysis on a daily basis, and that’s what we want to do, we want to make sure that this equipment is getting used and the ice time is getting used, that people are going to have a better quality of life.”

The county’s Therapeutic Recreation Complex has been beneficial in helping to fulfill the goals of Endless Possibilities. It provides the services and equipment necessary to provide adaptive sports to everyone, regardless of ability. “When the county built this property, it opened the lives for so many more people… they get active and they become part of society,” Charlie Brown said about the TR Complex.

The CMAA Therapeutic Recreation Complex is located at 2728 Lake Worth Road, and is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. For more leisure opportunities, visit www.pbcparks.com.

Endless Possibilities meets at 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the Therapeutic Recreation Center.

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“Waggin’ at the Waterpark”: Furry Friends frolick at Calypso Bay Waterpark

DSC_9270For one day only, Palm Beach County’s Calypso Bay Waterpark opened up for our residents’ four-legged companions. On October 10, Calypso Bay remained open for residents to bring their dogs – small, medium and large – to cool off from the heat and play in the water. The dogs loved splashing around, playing fetch and chasing their furry friends around! By the end of the event, there were some pretty tired pooches. Staff at Calypso Bay say they plan to hold another similar event at the end of the season next year, which will be advertised beginning in the summer.DSC_9305

Calypso Bay Waterpark is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and is located in Seminole Palms Park at 151 Lamstein Lane in Royal Palm Beach.

Watch the video below for a glimpse of the event (and to see what happens when you put a GoPro on a very happy dog!)

Glades residents dance, bounce and run their way to an active lifestyle at free Family Fun Fest

On October 3, Western Palm Beach County residents – including those living in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee – enjoyed free activities at the Glades Family Fun Fest at Glades Pioneer Park. The four-hour event allowed residents and kids to get out and get active through dance, bounce houses, rock climbing, oversized hamster balls, and team sports like soccer. A “Health and Wellness Village” also gave residents a chance to get important information regarding their health and wellness, as well as free health screenings and giveaways.

This event was not possible without the support of our partners, who donated their time and resources to help us facilitate health and wellness opportunities for our residents.

Thank you to our sponsors & co-sponsors:

  • 5210 Let’s Go!
  • Florida Health – Palm Beach County
  • Nisbet Enterprises
  • Palm Beach County Fire Rescue
  • Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization
  • Palm Beach County Youth Services
  • Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office
  • Palm Healthcare Foundation, Inc.
  • RC Hatton
  • The City of Belle Glade
  • Winn Dixie

We create opportunities for happy, healthy living!

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Project Seahorse: 150 Palm Beach County kids learn to swim, snorkel under Blue Heron Bridge


Courtesy: Dan Volker, Jim Abernathy

The Idea

In 2014, it was not unusual to find avid divers Jim Abernathy and Dan Volker under Blue Heron Bridge in Palm Beach County’s Phil Foster Park. The men regularly dive and take tourists to a stunning area under the bridge, a location world-renowned for diving and snorkeling. Divers and snorkelers are accompanied by a plethora of marine life: seahorses, octopus, schools of exotic fish, and a variety of other plant and animal life that thrive below the surface.

projectseahorse-bhb-52Above the surface, surrounding the men were tourists and residents alike basking in the hot sun and bathing in the blue waters. But, amidst the many people enjoying the beach, Abernathy and Volker noticed something concerning: a number of local residents and children were frolicking in waist-deep water. Curious, the men quickly found out the children didn’t know how to swim.

Living in Florida, they were disappointed to learn that the kids, who are lucky enough to live so close to the ocean, couldn’t take full advantage of their environment. It was a shame, as the kids took such interest in the divers, yet they didn’t have the skills to go beneath the surface to discover the whole new world of exotic marine life that lives just underneath their feet.

On Project Seahorse’s website, the men say that understanding the amazing underwater world “connects to the health of Palm Beach County now, and leads to an explosion in our coastal- and ocean culture-based tourism and related cottage industries….and this series of connections will transform our future.”

It was then, in 2014, that Project Seahorse was born. Its goal: to teach Palm Beach County kids how to swim and snorkel.

Making It Happen

Fast forward a year later, and the spark that started in Abernathy and Volker’s minds and hearts took a giant leap forward. In summer of 2015, Project Seahorse partnered with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation and the City of Boynton Beach Parks and Recreation – among other private sponsors – to bring this wonderful experience to six separate camps and a total of 150 Palm Beach County children, ages 10 to 15.

Special Facilities Supervisor Joan Hutchinson says the county’s involvement made for a more organized fulfillment of the project, as county employees worked with the men to handle logistics, timeframes, permitting and more. “We took it to Recreation Services and helped them pull together a program that made sense for everyone,” Hutchinson said. More importantly though, Hutchinson added, the county’s support was key in developing community support for Project Seahorse and finding kids who would benefit from learning the skills Abernathy and Volker wanted to teach.

projectseahorse-bhb-13The program began several weeks before a big snorkel trip to Blue Heron Bridge with swim tests and lessons. Jonathan Dickinson, owner of Florida Freedivers, along with some of his staff, spent five days with each camp testing and teaching the children how to swim and snorkel. The little ones learned a variety of skills: from becoming comfortable wearing fins and masks, to the most important, how to breathe through a snorkel.

This was all done in the safety and control of the Palm Beach County Gleneagles Country Club Aquatic Center swimming pool at the CMAA Therapeutic Recreation Complex in John Prince Park in Lake Worth, which remained open for additional hours to accommodate Project Seahorse; the Boynton Beach group used Aqua Crest Pool in Delray Beach. Dickinson and his staff spent approximately 30 hours with the children teaching them the skills they’d need for their open water adventure. Certified water safety instructors from the Therapeutic Recreation Services Section worked with many of the children, helping them strengthen and improve their swimming skills.

“After weekly snorkeling lessons, one amazing outcome of the Project Seahorse program was that each teen improved their swimming levels. Non-swimmers learned to swim, weak swimmers became strong swimmers able to snorkel, and strong swimmers learned how to dive down ten feet under the water and view sea life up close,” said Adrienne Huisman, Palm Beach County Summer Camp Coordinator.

The Big Day

The big day came on August 3. Summer camps from Palm Beach County met at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. The Boynton Beach kids snorkeled off-shore at an area just off of Boynton Beach. Abernathy and Volker came out in full force – complete with about ten volunteers and gear for the children to use. The volunteers were all diving instructors and each had a group of kids to take under the Blue Heron Bridge.

The children saw fish, octopus, starfish, and seahorses, among other marine life. The campers all loved the experience and were, of course, sad when it was time to leave.  The good thing, though, is that Project Seahorse will be back next year to teach new campers the skill of snorkeling. The children who learned this year can act as mentors for the kids next year.

West Boynton Teen Camp Director Cameron Morris added, “my teens loved the day we snorkeled in the ocean. They wanted more time and were asking if we were going to be able to go next summer.”

More exciting, in summer of 2016, Project Seahorse may be bigger and better – with two days of snorkeling instead of one!

The Phil Foster Park Artificial Reef and Snorkel Trail was completed in August 2012 and is the result of a partnership between Palm Beach County’s Parks and Recreation Department and Department of Environmental Resources Management.

For information about summer camp programs available through the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, visit http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/summercamps.

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