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SFRC Serves: Christine A. Slowiak

Welcome to our new Summer Blog Series, SFRC Serves. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we are sharing stories of how our students and alumni give back to their communities. 

Our first feature is Christine Slowiak. Christine works as an Exotic and Fire Technician for the Department of Environmental Protection. She also volunteers for the Florida Park Service, in a different capacity than her normal work.

Christine wearing PPE standing in front of a burn site

Name:

Christine Slowiak

Program:

Masters in Forest Resources and Conservation with a Concentration in Ecological Restoration

Florida Park Service Volunteering – An Overview

“Volunteering with the Florida Park Service is an absolute pleasure due to the variety of available services we provide, the teams that are dedicated to delivering them, and the visitors ready to receive them.

I first began as a campground host cleaning bathrooms, providing grounds maintenance, and answering visitors’ questions. It is important to me to improve campers’ experiences because of my own cherished childhood memories of camping. The outdoors offers plenty of opportunity to share the delight and wonder with youth groups and the public. As a life-time member of Girl Scouts, it is an honor to lead hikes with other scouts about Leave No Trace, species identification and ecosystem conservation.

At the inception of the ‘Second Saturday Paddle,’ I began assisting Master Naturalists with river trips. While some avid boaters attend, it is common to guide groups of kayakers who had no previous paddling experience.

Christine wearing historical clothingAlthough I was a little nervous at first to don sutler clothing for the first time, the realm of reenactment now excites me when bringing history to life through interpretive events.

Even more thrilling is the pursuit of prescribed fire and its positive impact. With the help of the Citizen Support Organization, the parks also host events like mud runs and clean-up initiatives. Through outdoor recreation, it is inspiring to raise awareness of the challenges that invasive, exotic species pose to the environment, as well as the role that Florida plays in combating them in the United States. There is a wealth of resources in Florida. The commitment among stewards to preserve, interpret and restore them within the Florida Park Service reflects their true value.”

My Florida Park Service Story

“I am originally from Chicago, but I have traveled all over the world. For my undergraduate degree, I attended Kalamazoo College to pursue Environmental Studies and Anthropology/Sociology. I had the privilege of studying abroad in Australia and volunteered to restore watersheds outside of Perth.

When I graduated in 2013, I decided to work and travel around Oceania. By the end of 2016, my visas expired, and I returned to my parents in Chicago. Knowing I would winter better in the South, my Mother found the AmeriCorps Non-Native Plant Terminator (A.N.T.) program with the Florida Park Service. Continuing to live out of my tent and backpack, I explored Florida State Parks to learn about sites that hosted AmeriCorps members.

While primitively camping at Hillsborough River State Park, I attended a CSO event and introduced myself to the park staff and volunteers. The next day, the volunteer coordinator moved me into the main park as a campground host. Within a few weeks, the park manager redirected me to resource management. I accepted the A.N.T. position and moved into the park’s AmeriCorps housing. A couple days later I was on my first prescribed burn at Myakka River State Park.

AmeriCorps provided many opportunities to pursue my passions, immersing my work ethic in the long hours of the land. One of them involved my love of traveling because nearby parks hosted workdays and overnight strike teams. I primarily removed invasive species, but also provided public outreach, led interpretive river trips, and performed trail maintenance. It was clear I had planted my roots in the right place because I felt supported in my personal mission: to make large-scale, long-term positive change.

Joining the first AmeriCorps Disaster Relief Team introduced me to incident command systems and prepared me for Hurricane Irma. Learning new skills enriched my foundation in public service and developed a stronger sense of leadership and stewardship.

With an extensive background in the hospitality industry, I slipped into CSO and outdoor education programs. Most notably was the ‘Dinner under the Stars’ event in which historical reenactors create authentic period experiences with guests. Under the magical moonlight at the Historic Site of Fort Foster, I transformed into a sutler among Seminoles and soldiers. We shared a 4-course meal, told stories, sung around a fire circle, and fired off a Second Seminole War cannon.”

guests gathering and eating at picnic tables

“Bringing history to life was just one of the many rewarding aspects of service that led me into a second AmeriCorps term, this time hosted by Sebastian Inlet State Park. The two years went by quickly, so after graduating from AmeriCorps, I wanted to further engage the discipline further and expand my professional. I decided to pursue my Master of Science degree and return to my first Florida home: Hillsborough. I volunteered for accommodation by completing resource management objectives and assisting with CSO events like Camper Coffee, Potluck, Swamp Stomp and Haunted Woods.

Although the stability of food security and housing initially lured me to Hillsborough River State Park, the community and commitment to the resources is what kept my heart here. The love is fierce, a feeling I continue to harbor here as an OPS Exotic and Fire Technician.”

Know a student or alum who should be featured? Email sfrcnews@ifas.ufl.edu to nominate them!