- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

HOUMA, La. (AP) - For the Wetland Warriors, a group of local teenagers dedicated to protecting and preserving wetlands, it’s all about striking the right balance of fun and productivity.

“We get stuff done but we also have fun doing it,” said 15-year-old student president Zachary Smith, of Houma.

From tree plantings to canoe trips, Wetland Warriors events offer local teens a chance to learn about south Louisiana’s environment while experiencing it firsthand.

Carol Benoit, of Houma, started the group with the help of her teenage children, Jacques and Terez, in fall 2013. She hoped to combining the outdoor activities they enjoyed doing as a family with the coastal restoration work her children had focused on through other groups, all with a laid back atmosphere geared toward 13- to 18-year-olds.

“They kind of get to a point where they want a little different type of group where it’s just a little more open. You can float in and float out,” said Benoit, who serves as the group’s adult leader. “And I try to keep it really fun because if that ratio of fun to work is not right they’re not going to come.”

The group has stayed small with about 10 core members, but has attracted a mix of people with different personalities and interests, Benoit said.

At monthly meetings, group members brainstorm upcoming events that range from picnics and Petanque games to seed plantings.

The group has also appeared on local television to talk about environmental issues. It coordinates many of its events and volunteer opportunities with those of other local environmental groups, such as the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center.

The focus on enjoying and preserving the south Louisiana environment came naturally for Benoit, who always enjoyed being outdoors and came from a long line of trappers and fishermen.

Her children inherited that interest from Benoit and their environmentalist father.

“It’s just kind of part of who we are as a family,” Benoit said.

Benoit, a professional counselor and occupational therapist with years of experience working with young people of varying functional abilities, said it was also important to create an inclusive atmosphere where teenagers can contribute whatever skills they have, whether it’s working in the swamps or designing the group’s T-shirt.

“You do want you want to do and if you don’t want to do it, cool don’t do it. If all you want to do is sit here and eat cookies at the meeting, that’s fine too,” she said.

Even with the relaxed atmosphere, the group is serious about learning about the environment and what can be done to improve it.

“Really as soon as I joined I had this new understanding about how important the wetlands are,” said Smith, adding that he initially joined the group because it sounded like fun.

At the group’s most recent meeting, the teenagers discussed researching different topics and present their findings to their peers.

“It’s one thing to see them having fun - that’s awesome - but it’s another to see them intellectually involved,” Benoit said.


Information from: The Courier, https://www.houmatoday.com

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