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One little moment in time can change a kid's life

Published December 04. 2010 09:00AM

An event that may not seem monumental at the time can set the direction of a child's life.

I've watched that happen so many times, both in my own family and in observing others.

When daughter Andrea turned 13, we gave her a Nikon camera for her birthday. It was my husband's idea. I was against giving Andrea the big, professional model he picked, thinking that at her age a point and shoot would be better.

What I didn't know was that gift would springboard into an exciting career for her.

By the time she was 16, she was starting the first of three newspaper internships. By the time she graduated from college, she was working as a photographer, first for the Associated Press, later for the Philadelphia Daily News.

And it all started with one birthday present that set her afire with a passion for photography.

My friends Jeanne and Joel Srodes had a similar experience with their son, Zander. When the Palm Island young man was 11, he often walked the beach with his nature-loving mother.

During one of those evening walks, Zander met turtle patrol volunteer Linda Soderquist.

Now, Linda is a rather remarkable teacher and has had a starring role in helping many kids. But when she stopped to tell young Zander about why he had to stop endangering sea turtles by shining a flashlight on the beach, she had no idea this would be a pivotal moment for a precocious kid.

When Zander told his mother he wanted to learn more about sea turtles, she could have bought him a book and that was it. But she encouraged his environmental interest, driving him to Mote Marine at his request so he could "interview" scientists there.

I get a kick out of that scenario. There he was, just a young kid, and he had the gumption to think a busy Mote scientist would take time for him.

Because they did, years later Mote was the beneficiary of a $25,000 grant from Zander. He won the grant after being named a Volvo for Life finalist in recognition for his work on behalf of sea turtles. When he won the grant, it was with the stipulation that he give it to an environmental group of his choice.

It all started when Zander, who was just about 12 at the time, learned there were no books about sea turtles written on a level children could understand. A local teacher encouraged him to write his own book, promising to do the illustrations if he did.

The result was the Sea Turtle Activity book that has been distributed to thousands of youngsters and has been reprinted in at least five languages.

Because he's one of the most outstanding kids I've ever interviewed, I'd love to tell you the story of all Zander Srodes has accomplished in his young life, but it would take up most of the newspaper. Plus, it's an ongoing story. Now 20 years of age, he keeps winning international honors for his environmental work.

Last summer he was selected to speak in India at the International Marine Conservation Convention as well as at the Sea Turtle Symposium in Goa, India.

Because of his work with sea turtles, he has traveled to South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Costa Rica, Mexico and India. And the list keeps growing for Zander, who is now in college.

Follow Zander on Facebook for his latest international adventure, or, see his environmental video on You Tube.

"I keep meeting young people from around the globe who are working in their own way to make the world better. But I seldom meet another young person doing environmental work," he noted.

Because his mother and a teacher encouraged him to pursue his sea turtle project, his life changed in significant ways, ways he and his family never imagined.

"We thought it would be a worthwhile activity for him," said Jean Srodes, "but we had no idea where it would lead. Every year he keeps getting more exciting opportunities that all stem from his sea turtle work."

Jean is now hoping her niece, Montana Sewell, will take up the environmental torch. Montana and Zander recently published a Freshwater Turtle Adventure Activities Book with a grant from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

With her cousin as a shinning example, Montana says she thinks it's a worthwhile project to help educate children about the importance of protecting turtles.

"Who knows where it will lead," said the high school sophomore.

We never know where any endeavor will lead.

Every generation of parents work diligently to give their kids a leg up in life.

Some sign their kids up for every conceivable lesson. Others push sports, music or academic pursuits.

But no matter how hard we try, we never know what will influence a kid's life.

It can be something as simple as the gift of a camera or a walk on the beach that does it. Looking back on my own life, it was the encouraging comments of my high school English teacher that led me to a long and rewarding career in journalism.

"You should consider going into journalism," she wrote on my sophomore essay. I would not have thought of it without her guidance.

In gratitude, I sent her flowers when I was happily working for my first newspaper.

Think back to your own life. What stands out as a pivotal moment that might not have seemed significant at the time?

I'd like to hear from you with your story.

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