Friday, February 25, 2011

Sounds Overheard: Pig Frogs & Grumpy Birds

Bottle nose dolphin fishing for lunch alongside my kayak last Sunday at Coon Key where Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge meets the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a hidden natural gem that most motorists miss while racing across busy Tamiami Trail from Miami to cosmopolitan Naples on Florida's south west coast. The refuge  protects a unique subtropical estuarine ecosystem, ranging from marsh wetlands to mangrove lined islands along the Gulf of Mexico.

Listen to 1:50 recording of wading birds at dusk followed by chorus of frogs.

About an hour before sundown I pulled off Tamiami Trail and parked in the newly constructed Marsh Trail parking lot. With no other visitors at the tall observation tower, and only the low rumble of an occasional highway truck to distract me, I quickly slowed down and began to hear the amazing sounds of the saw grass marsh settle down for the evening.

Hundreds of wading birds, great blue herrons, snowy egrets, coots and white ibis were settling into the trees of a water surrounded rookery, squakwing and honking and grumbling amongst themselves. As the sun reached the horizon, they calmed down a little, with the ibis flapping their wings in unison.

In the fading light a chorus of frogs croaked back and forth, a high pitched chirp chirp chirp of reptilian love calls soon overpowering the sounds from the rookery. Finally, in the pitch dark, pig frogs got to work sounding like, well, croaking pigs. I imagined tourists thinking wild hogs were crouched hiding in the tall grass, waiting for an opportune moment to pounce and devour the uninitiated traveler.

The only creatures attacking me were the voracious mosquitoes, which were sucking blood from the microphone holding hand I extended from under my bug jacket's protective netting. Hidden natural gem or not, it was time to retreat to the safety of my car.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard

More audio recording and Miami multimedia photography can be viewed here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

“Adopt Me, I’m Unforgettable”, Foster Teen Dreams

Best friends Celene and Sheaundra are hanging out in the park together, seemingly typical teens giggling while swinging, gossiping about school friends and alongside a sun sparkled lake share whispered dreams for their future.

But unlike the other children playing in the park, these two girls have no families.  Both have lived in foster care over half their lives, orphans after the State of Florida severed their parent’s rights to raise them. They both long to leave their group homes and be adopted into permanent families.

Teens who’ve lived half their lives in foster care describe why they want to be adopted in this 3:10 audio slide show. iPad friendly version.

The problem is, teens in foster care have an uphill battle finding what the Heart Gallery of Broward County calls “Forever Families”, says Barbara Schechter, Executive Director of the Ft. Lauderdale based traveling exhibit of photographs featuring foster children who are available for adoption.

Of the 90 foster children currently featured in the Heart Gallery, 60 per-cent are teens, but only 10 per-cent, about six, will find permanent families, she says. With children under 12, adoption rates are much better, with 30 per-cent being adopted, and the percentages are even higher for those under eight years old.

Schechter believes some potential adoptive parents let unfounded or exaggerated perceptions about teens in foster care get in the way of their considering older children, fearing the foster care system has hardened children into uncontrollable or defiant teens.

At times, she says, teens “are set in their ways, they talk back, they don’t want to be told what to do or how to do it and they don’t like to follow rules”. Then notes, “actually, this could describe my own teenager”, and can apply to foster teens too.

Schechter suggests approaching teen adoption as a mutual decision between child and family, allowing plenty of time for both parties to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “Families who can be open about who they are and what they expect can help to make the matching process much easier for the child”. Teens are old enough to choose their family, she adds.

To help prospective adoptive parents start thinking about teens, the Heart Gallery commissioned me to produce a multimedia audio slide show featuring the voices of Celene and Sheaundra.

Teens in foster care often have some tough history, Sheaudra, 15, frankly told me in December, and that’s why they need a family.  “I think that’s why people kinda judge us. They think it’s our fault (we’re in foster care), but it’s not my fault ... because my parents made these mistakes, and I didn’t”. 

Celne, 14, thinks adopting teens is easier than adopting babies because “... teens are more mature and it’s easier for them to learn than a little kid ... (who) messes up the house, throws stuff, yells and has temper tantrums...”.

She’s a very self confident young lady when she wraps the multimedia show with “I should get adopted ‘cause I’m awesome, I’m smart, I’m mature ... I’m unforgettable!”

The Heart Gallery of Browad County is not only looking for people to adopt children, but also matches those willing to be mentors, donate time, become a child advocate or donate funds. They work hand in hand with Child Net, the private, not for profit organization that manages the child welfare system in Broward County for the State of Florida.

See more stories featuring miami multimedia photography that blend public-radio-style interviews with photojournalism.