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Leadership St. Pete brings renewal to marine center

Mark Parker

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Chris Steinocher (center), president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, with the Leadership St. Pete Class of 2022 and members of city council at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photos by Mark Parker.

The Clam Bayou Marine Education Center has received some much-needed improvements thanks to four months of fundraising and sweat equity provided by the Leadership St. Pete (LSP) class of 2022.

The 53rd class of community leaders chose the South St. Pete educational center as its annual class project, titled “Waves of Inspiration.” LSP’s mission was to enhance the outdoor waterfront space to increase comfort and foster learning for the area students and children it serves.

The class provided new pathways to connect the expansive property, landscaping with native seaside plants and 10 round picnic tables shaded by large umbrellas and sitting on top of fresh, pristine sod. During Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Lindsay Petty, Chair of the LSP class of 2022, said she believes the group left an indelible mark on the facility.

“We hope that this project, while it is ending for us today, is really just the beginning for you,” said Petty. “We know that Clam Bayou students today are our scientists of tomorrow, so we are all so proud to support them here today.”

The marine center, operated by the University of South Florida College of Marine Science in partnership with the City of St. Petersburg, offers educational and community outreach programming to inspire youth involvement in environmental issues and ocean conservancy. The facility also hopes to foster career pathways in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – especially for the area’s underserved community.

Petty said the class should take great pride in the legacy they created.

“It’s one in which I hope your children, your friends’ children and your neighbors’ children will have the chance to visit,” she said. “The chance to be inspired and to see something more, to see something bigger than themselves – just like you all did when you started this journey.”

Dr. Teresa Greely (right), director of the center, and Makenzie Kerr, outreach coordinator. Greely said Kerr, who attended the facility as a child, was proof of the center’s impact on students.

Billed as one of the oldest leadership programs in America, LSP operates under the umbrella of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s nonprofit foundation. Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the organization, told the many attendees that LSP is “probably the best thing the community does together.”

He explained that the program thrust 39 people who did not know each other together to fund and build something transformative. They then met 40 other people – the planning committee members – who offered their guidance from previous projects spanning the leadership program’s 53-year history.

He said that those 80 people reached out to community members, resulting in at least 250 people coming together to support the Waves of Inspiration.

“They didn’t just give their money,” said Steinocher. “They understood what we were trying to do.”

In addition to raising over $106,000, Steinocher noted the class spent months in the Florida sun digging dirt, pulling weeds, lifting heavy materials and operating machinery “that they probably weren’t supposed to be.”

“They had gas propane flame throwers out here,” said Steinocher, eliciting a chorus of laughter. “They worked their rear ends off.”

Dr. Teresa Greely, director of the center, said her heart was overwhelmed with gratitude. She said the facility offered 15 years of programming for area students, and in four to six months, LSP completely transformed the space.

Greely promised the center would continue providing outdoor classrooms and a place where children, especially those from the Clam Bayou community, can explore the waterfront and learn the importance of marine stewardship. She added that kids would also ascertain what it means to be a community steward and called them the future problem-solvers for St. Petersburg’s unique environmental challenges.

“Everyone who crosses the threshold of that gate – they’ll leave with positive memories and experiences of a lifetime,” said Greely.

Makenzie Kerr, outreach coordinator for the center, also attended the facility as a child. Greely credited her standing next to her as proof of the lasting impact the experience can have on kids.

Kerr said the facility’s improvements were already impacting the latest generation of students to visit the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center.

“It’s not even all of the way complete yet, and they already said it’s like a resort to them,” said Kerr. “So, thank you all, so much.”

Operated by the USF College of Marine Science, in partnership with the City of St. Petersburg, the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center inspires youth to become environmental and community stewards.

For more information on Leadership St. Pete, visit the website here. To learn more about the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center, visit the website here.

 

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