More than 40 Randall Middle School student-volunteers signed up to “Take a day on, not a day off” this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to help protect Florida’s native plant environment.

The group organized by the Randall Area Youth Service Council (R.A.Y.S.), were removing invasive, non-native Air Potato plants along the Alafia riverbank at Alafia River State Park.

According to Randall teacher, Kristy Verdi, who leads the R.A.Y.S. Council, the activity is good preparation for high school community service which is a requirement for the Bright Futures Scholarship.

“We always look for a community need and this is just one of the environmental needs that we can all get involved with,” Verdi said.

Verdi added that the project is a great way for students to understand the true meaning of service at their young age and really get involved to reach a community need.

“This is a compassionate age,” she said. “These students have a strong sense of community need and such projects bind them to the community, which raises awareness and teaches them about civic responsibility and helps them figure out what they want to do later in life.”

“I enjoy being part of this and I hope to inspire other students to do the same,” said 13-year-old Grace Morrissey, who was supported by her older sister Ina, 15.

R.A.Y.S Council member, Christina Coleman, 13, was also excited about the project and taking the lead in the cleanup effort.

“This is important to me because Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to community service,” Coleman said. “Parks are important and this day is meant to be a day that remembers the importance of service, volunteering, and giving back to the community.”

Abby Hinckley, 13, agreed when she said, “I love this project. This is my second time removing this invasive plant and helping heal the environment. I am sure I will be back again soon.”

For more info about the R.A.Y.S., please contact Kristy Verdi at



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