YLP Retreat and November Program Day Class of 2022

by Sylvia Beach

If you have spent any amount of time on the internet in the past years, you have most likely come across “I was today years old when I …”

Although short and sweet, that simple phrase sums up the Youth Leadership Pinellas Class of 2022’s first retreat and program day—one of new “firsts,” new friends, new experiences, and definitely some new smells.

Our day started early at 7:30 a.m. on a beautiful, quiet November day, but nothing says quiet more than a group of teenagers in the early morning who don’t know each other.

Thankfully, Mr. Siracusa inspired us to break the ice and meet some new students before our team-building activities began. I hope I speak for all of my fellow classmates when I say that I was able to find so much in common with this group that I thought I shared no similarities.

We were split into four teams: The A-Team, The Raptors, The Wombats, and the AA-Team. Working in teams allowed us to create stronger bonds with those in our team by collaboration and uniting against the other teams to win at a certain activity.

Our first activity was charades, but with appliances, food, and superheroes. This was the first time I had seen someone act out “baked potato” successfully enough for our team to guess it.

Our second activity consisted of everyone on our team touching each number in order from 1 to 30 inside a large circle as fast as possible, but no more than one person could be within the circle’s boundaries at once. This required high levels of communication and self-accountability to touch the numbers in order and keep only one person in the circle, especially to avoid the dreaded 10 second time penalties.

Third, we played a game called “Pipeline,” where all but one team member (who acts as the coach) hold half of a pipe each and roll a golf ball across. To win, the team had to make it to the other side of the awning and roll the ball into a bucket. This required lots of running back and forth, especially running into the person next to you, but my team was thankful to have a few lacrosse players to coordinate our team’s maneuvers. However, the key to success was to be slow, steady, and controlled, something all of us discovered to be helpful in the next task. Taking over an hour to complete all variations of the final task, the strings, ring, and tennis ball combination proved to be the most challenging.

Each team was gathered in a circle around a pipe with a tennis ball on top and a ring attached to several strings on the bottom. Each member had to hold a string around the ring to evenly lift the ring, pick up the tennis ball, and either set it back onto their own pipe or walk to another team’s pipe to set it down. The most challenging variation was where all four of the pipes, one for each team, were positioned close together, requiring each team’s strings to overlap and to lower the tennis ball at the same time. I must have lost count of how many times this had to be repeated, but each time got closer and closer the slower we all went, the more we communicated between teams, and developed our individual and overall team strategies.

After a nourishing Panera lunch donated by one of our very own Leadership Pinellas alumni, we changed into our blue polos and loaded the bus en route to the South Cross Bayou Advanced Water Reclamation Facility. Each of us were assigned to a random bus partner to sit next to, which seemed intimidating, but was more rewarding than anything.

My bus partner and I talked about everything from college to boy problems, and we passed our phones to the two people in front of us to add each other on Snapchat.

Upon arrival at South Cross, we gathered in a room to hear a presentation by Ms. Shea, who had an incredible sense of humor and got everyone engaged from the start. She used everyday items to make a sample of wastewater stirred by a boy in the front row. No REAL waste was used—at least not yet!

Shea told us about the facility, that it is unincorporated but one of 14 facilities in Pinellas County that treats wastewater. In fact, it treats 33 million gallons of water per day: 18 in one side of the facility and 15 in the other, as the entire facility is essentially two mini-plants in one.

Shea then took us on a tour of the facility itself. Very quickly, the smell of the wastewater came like a slap to the face, like what the bathroom smells like after your dad uses it. We got to see primary, anoxic, and aeration tanks, which separate garbage and solid wastes, introduce clouds of bacteria to eat some of the remaining waste, chemically treat water, and add oxygen back to the water. (Just be careful not to look down; you can see the rushing water right below the walkway. Falling into the tanks would make one hot tub experience of a lifetime.)

One of the most distinctive things about South Cross is that it is a certified advanced water reclamation facility, meaning that it processes even more nitrogen out of the water. They even use UV rays to kill more bacteria in the water, a sanitation method that has been popularized by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, we got to see a presentation about the Pinellas County Solid Waste facility, a place I didn’t know existed until this day. It is the only landfill in Pinellas County covering over 700 acres of land and over 1500 vehicles pass through its gates to dispose of waste every day. This waste is dumped into a large, open warehouse with a deep pit on one side.

Although it was not attached and functioning when we got to see it, the claw grabs the trash and places it on a belt to be burned and condensed by 90% of its original volume. From there, it is placed in the landfill and topped with ash to keep trash from blowing away. Even though the landfill has several years left of use, it is filling up exponentially fast, a real-life issue our generation will have to face in the near future. We got to see first-hand why it is so important to reuse items, recycle, compost, and shop second-hand. In addition to these individual efforts, the facility is also dedicated to reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering.

For example, the heat produced by the 2500-degree flames creates steam and 75 megawatts of energy, or enough electricity to power 45,000 homes. How awesome! Also, large and otherwise non-disposable items are used in the artificial reef program, where they are incorporated into structures that provide shelter for fish while their natural habitats are destroyed. After listening to the presentation, it was so cool to see the facility in real life on the bus to connect the dots. While viewing it from the bus windows, Ms. Tracy, who used to work in the industry, thoroughly described the facility and its functions to us, even sharing some of her personal experiences.

Looking back from around 4:30 p.m. that day back to 7:30 that morning, it was difficult to believe the many experiences we shared with brand new people. We spent most of the bus ride back adding each other on Snapchat, following each other on Instagram, and creating a group chat of all of us to share information and stay in touch until the next program day in December.

From wastewater to charades, my classmates and I learned so much on our first program day. We used advanced teamwork skills with people we barely knew, learned values of patience, communication, and accountability, learned about some of the most important functions of our local community, and created friendship bonds to last into the future. On behalf of the Youth Leadership Pinellas Class of 2022, I would like to thank everyone who helped put together our November Program Day: the staff, volunteers, and the facilities that hosted our group. We cannot wait to see what is in store for our class next month.