Community Change Maker of the Year
Congratulations Keely Final!
When searching for the 2023 Community Changemaker we looked for the unsung heroes in our community who go
above and beyond to protect our planet and give back to our community. We are excited to announce
Keely Final as our 2023 Community Changemaker of the Year!
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Keely is the Park Services Specialist at Bahia Honda State Park but her passion and dedication go far beyond the park boundaries. Without question, Keely embodies the passion and dedication of a true changemaker. On any given day you will find her leading youth programs that inspire future conservation leaders, hosting cleanups, and working with local non-profits to protect and restore the Florida Keys.
Read on to learn more about Keely and her awe-inspiring community passion.
What drives you? "I am passionate about inspiring and empowering people, especially youth so we have stewards for our land in the future. My focus has been on preserving and protecting this magical environment we all get to live in."
How long have you lived or worked in Florida? "I started volunteering for Florida State Parks in 2010, as a resident volunteer and working on a few special projects. I continued doing this until I was hired in as a Park Ranger in 2013. In 2015 I was promoted to the Park Services Specialist. This position allowed more opportunities to do community outreach, plan events, work with schools, and focus on volunteerism and interpretation. It was an ideal fit for me!"
What is the most memorable moment in your work or career? "It's hard to pick just one. Meeting and mentoring my Jr. Ranger Bella (who was maybe 6 or 7 at the time). We changed each other’s lives the day she ran up to me with her completed Jr. Ranger packet and asked to be sworn in before she had to go home that day. The Nature Center was closed, I was covered in dirt, and I could have easily said I’m sorry come back at 10:00. But I recognized something in her eyes, saw the effort her parents had made to get her there before they left, and what it would mean to all of them. I brushed off the dirt, opened the Nature Center, and the rest is history. Bella is a young adult now and still represents all of those things she vowed when she was sworn in as a Jr. Ranger so long ago. It has been an honor to watch her grow up and know that she will continue to be a steward of this land all her life. Saving turtle hatchlings is right up there too!"
What has been your biggest challenge or hurdle in meeting your goals? "Connecting with the people who haven’t had the chance to experience the Keys or Bahia Honda. Reaching more demographics. There are so many passionate people who live in the Keys, the challenge is connecting with the ones that need or want to learn more but haven’t had the opportunity. If that’s you, and you’re reading this, please stop by Bahia Honda and experience this natural beauty and learn more about what you can do to help, or sign up for one of the many clean-ups Coastlove offers." (P.S. thanks for the plug Keely!)
How do you avoid burn out? "No two days are ever the same at my job, that’s one of the reasons I absolutely love it. Any time I feel frustrated or distraught I just stop and look around...I mean what more can you ask for? This is why we do what we do."
If there is one thing you could change today, what would it be? "I would ban plastic bags in the Keys. Let’s start there. I would also like to see a drastic reduction in single use/disposable items. There is no reason in the world that we can’t all start making better choices on a daily basis. People may see it as an inconvenience, but if you ask the people in cities where plastic bags are banned you’ll see, to them, it is just the new norm. Make something eco-friendly can easily be your new norm."
Tell the public one thing you want them to know. "The most honest statement I’ve ever heard about making better choices was this one: “I don’t mind helping the environment as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me”. It’s time to take a hard look at that statement and ask ourselves if we fall into that category. If so, let’s think about how to change that mindset. Every one of us can make a difference."
If you've never met Keely, you are truly missing out. Stop by (or click to visit) Bahia Honda State Park to enjoy all that the park has to offer and look into how you can create lasting change.
Thank you Keely for making our community and planet a healthier and happier place!